Chatham Implements New Online Payment System

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Municipal Finance

The home screen for Chatham's new online bill payment system.

CHATHAM – Between fiscal years 2018 and 2019, use of the town's online bill paying system increased by 60 percent. The figure is likely to increase with the introduction of a new system that allows people to pay more bills online with fewer fees.

Beginning with the next round of water bills, scheduled to be issued in the next week or two, residents and property owners will be able to pay free of charge with electronic check (ACH) transactions, and will be able to pay more bills, including real estate and personal property taxes, motor vehicle and boat excise taxes and water and sewer bills. The previous system could not process boat excise payments and charged a fee for ACH transactions.

The new vendor, City Hall Systems, will charge a 2.95 percent fee for credit and debit card payments with a $1 minimum.

The new system has a number of other benefits for residents, according to Treasurer/Tax Collector Sharon Drown. Multiple bills can be paid through a single shopping cart, customers can set up email notifications when bills are issued, and original bills for the current and past fiscal years can be downloaded and printed.

“At the end of the year, we are flooded with phone calls” from people looking for copies of bills, she said. Under the new system, anyone who creates an account and view and download invoices, whether or not they pay online.

Officials decided to switch vendors after receiving complaints that the previous system, Invoice Cloud, was not user friendly.

“Customer service is lacking, which is critical, especially for people who work during the day and come home at night to pay their bills,” Drown said, explaining that calls went to an automated call center. “We were getting an awful lot of complaints.” City Hall Systems has more robust customer service, she said, and includes live customer service rather than an automated call center. It can be reached by phone and email or by multi-lingual online chat.

The new system will also help town finance department process the online payments more efficiently, she said. Yarmouth, Wellfleet and several other Cape towns use City Hall Systems.

A substantial number of people pay their bills online, Drown said, and the number has been increasing. In fiscal 2018, 190 credit card transactions were made along with 518 ACH payments. The numbers went up last year, with 940 paying by ACH and 208 by credit card. More than $1.5 million in revenue came in through the online system in fiscal 2019, and those figures don't include payments for the end of May through June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year. With the new system allowing ACH payments with no charge, those figures are likely to increase, but Drown said credit card payments are also strong. The new system also accepts more types of credit credit cards, she added.

People who have been paying online will have to create new accounts under City Hall Systems. A notice with instructions will be included in the upcoming water bill, Drown said.

Some tow fees and bills still can't be paid online, such as beach and transfer station stickers.

“That's something we will have to approach with time,” Drown said. “We'd like to transition over to it. We've talked about it. It's just when to implement the change.”

Taxes and other town bills can always be paid by mail or in person at the town offices, she added.