Back to the Jan-Feb 2022 issue

How Did Your City Begin Accepting Electronic Payments?

Tara Mai

TARA MAI
DEPUTY CITY CLERK
RANIER (POPULATION 569)

In the City of Ranier, we had many residents who were disappointed to discover we couldn’t take their payments by credit or debit card. It seemed Ranier was behind the times.

In our small city, where we have only two people working in City Hall, the idea of figuring out how to safely take electronic payments was overwhelming. But over time, we learned more about it, and we began accepting electronic payments in June 2019.

Fears put to rest

I had many fears about online financial transactions going wrong, but after some research, I became more comfortable with the idea. For one thing, I learned that any errors would be handled by the vendor.

Secondly, I learned that providing this convenience to our residents made their lives easier at no cost to the city. It sounded like it would be a win-win situation.

Helpful networking

The hardest part of getting started with electronic payments was choosing a vendor because there are so many, and the terminology was like a foreign language to me. I wasn’t sure where to begin, but then I saw a discussion about this topic on the League of Minnesota Cities’ MemberLink community for clerks and administrators.

I contacted a clerk from another city that had implemented electronic payments. With the information she gave me, I was able to make comparisons of a few electronic payment systems. They were all similar in their processing and rates.

In the end, I chose to use Value Payment Systems. They were very helpful, informative, and patient with all my questions. They had a streamlined process for setting Ranier up to accept electronic payments, and they helped us every step of the way. There are no fees for the city, and transaction fees are paid by the customer.

Glad we did it

Since signing on with Value Payment Systems, our residents can now conveniently make payments online, by phone, or in person. In fact, it’s so much easier for residents to pay online anytime, rather than during limited office hours, that we’ve seen a decline in late payments.

We are probably one of the last to make the jump to electronic payments, but we and our constituents are so glad we did. If your city isn’t doing this, I’d encourage you to make the jump, too. It’s not as scary as it seems.

 

Elaine Walker

ELAINE WALKER
CITY CLERK/TREASURER
ROUND LAKE (POPULATION 377)

More and more, people in the City of Round Lake were asking to pay their monthly utility bills with a credit or debit card. So, about six years ago, we started looking into offering this option.

Choosing a vendor

As we researched companies to process credit card payments, we discovered that companies connected to our bank would charge fees to the city. The City Council didn’t want this convenience to be an expense to the city, so we kept looking.

We ultimately decided to use a company called Gov- PayNet, which is now called AllPaid. Although there is no fee charged to the city, there is a fee charged to the payer for each transaction, and residents are notified of this when they make the payment.

Residents can make card payments online, over the phone, or in person. They also have an auto-pay option, where the monthly payment is made automatically from their bank. More residents are choosing this option since there is no transaction fee.

Other city fees — not just utility bills — can also be processed through AllPaid. This includes fees for cemetery plots, dog tags, meter deposits, and golf cart licenses.

The transaction process

With each credit card transaction, I receive three notifications via email. The first one simply notifies me of the payment. After 2 p.m. the same day, I get another email letting me know the payment was processed. The next day, I receive another email after 2 p.m. finalizing the transaction.

If I notice something wrong when I receive the first email, I contact AllPaid. If the payment was made in error, then I don’t receive the other two emails. AllPaid denies the payment, and I don’t have to do anything else. It’s a seamless transaction for me.

We use the Banyon software system for utility billing and the state’s City and Town Accounting System for our fund accounting. This requires me to manually enter total card payments in each system at the end of the month. It’s one extra step, but that’s not too bad.

Great decision

Overall, I am very happy with our processes for card and online payments, and I think our residents appreciate it, too. In our online world, convenience is important to some. Anything we can do to help our residents make payments is a benefit for all involved.