The City of Belmond is working through problems with recent changes in its automatic utility bill payment system. This includes a new fee of $1.75 per month for direct bank payments.

  For a number of years the city has offered residents the opportunity to pay their monthly water/sewer bills through automatic bank payments. This was done at no charge. But changes in the city’s billing system called Front Desk, which is provided by a third-party firm, has caused problems for many.

  Due to strict new nationwide banking and credit card security rules, the city is no longer allowed to keep certain customer data — like bank account and credit card numbers — on its computers. Instead, customers who want to pay by direct bank deposit (electronic check) must sign up online at the Front Desk website. A fee of $1.75 is then added.

  “We didn’t know about the $1.75 fee,” said City Manager Cheryl Gardner. “The company never told us about that. But because of our agreement, we have to make these changes. We had to update our system.”

  “First State Bank got a lot of angry calls after people signed up for the new payment system and later discovered the $1.75 fee on their bank statement,” said Councilman Alan Mattison. “But it wasn’t the bank’s fault. No one explained it to them.”

  Gardner said she and former deputy clerk Stephanie Fournier talked at great length about the fee after fielding calls from many residents.

  “We decided that the best thing to do was recommend to the council that the city absorb the ACH fee for the time being,” she said. “If a customer agrees to online (paperless) billing, that saves us the cost of mailing a postcard every month. Since the company only charges the city 50¢ instead of $1.75 for each payment, it makes sense for the city to pay the fee for now. We will have to revisit this next year to see if the fee goes up.”

  “Unfortunately, anyone who already made a payment in June will have to cover the $1.75 themselves,” she said. “But starting next month the city will pay the fee.

  “However,” she added, “people who pay by credit card — whether online or in person at City Hall — will continue to pay a credit/ debit card fee of 2.75%, with a minimum charge of $2 per month.”

  Mattison added, “When you sign up online, you get 24 hour access to your account. You can look at your water/sewer bill whenever you like.”

  The council agreed to proceed as recommended.