City to add electronic billing, payment: Change made after thefts from payment drop box

Thefts from Bowling Green’s payment drop-box has led the city to introduce electronic bill presentation and payment services.

Council on Feb 22 introduced an ordinance authorizing Brian O’Connell, utilities director, to enter into an agreement with Invoice Cloud Inc.

According to a legislative package document prepared for council, “passage of this legislation will result in significant enhancements for Bowling Green Municipal Utilities customers. This recommendation represents years of work to identify an electronic billing and payment service that is compatible with the city’s current financial and billing services.”

Currently, all city utilities customers receive a bill in the mail; there is no paperless billing option. Payments can be made through a variety of options, and “in developing this recommendation, the Utilities Business Office sought to expand customer payment options and offer customizable billing options.”

The board of public utilities recommended contracting with Invoice Cloud during their Feb. 14 meeting.

More than $10,000 in utility and tax payments that were left in a city drop box were reported stolen Nov. 30.

As Bowling Green residents got notices that their city bill was not paid, they started reporting it to the Bowling Green Police Division.

Police received 35 reports that either payment or personal information had been stolen from the drop box, totalling $10,278, had been taken

The city has taken similar reports, said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett in January.

According to the police report, a man forced entry into the box and removed its contents.

There is no update on the theft, and it remains under investigation, said BGPD Lt. Ryan Tackett Monday.

According to the document, some of the new features to customers and operations offered by the company include: a Payer Portal allowing for electronic or paperless billing; credit card and debit card payments via phone or online with one-time or recurrent payment options; Bank Automatic Clearing House and eCheck payments, “eliminating checks sent from the bank to the UBO which is both sustainable and time saving”; compatibility with mobile devices and payment options including Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo and PayPal; and “improved customer service by compatibility between the payer portal and the customer service representatives.”

The document notes that customers would still be able to pay bills in person and receive bills in the mail. It is hoped that, if approved, the new system would be in place and tested prior to the arrival of Bowling Green State University students in August.

In other utilities business, council passed an ordinance authorizing O’Connell to enter into a contract with Toray Membrane to purchase or replace reverse osmosis membranes for the Water Treatment Plant, and to advertise for bids and enter into a contract for their installation.

According to the legislative package document, these membranes “are critical since they provide the barrier for removing contaminants such as microcystin from harmful algae blooms.”

The document states that funds have been set aside in the annual budget for the membrane’s replacement. They were last replaced in 2016 and are due to be replaced this year. An expedited vote by council was requested, the document stated, “in order for the membranes to be ordered as soon as possible,” because their manufacture and shipping will take 12 to 14 weeks, meaning shipment could potentially be received in late May.

“Algae typically starts to form in the reservoir in May, but is at its peak from June thru September,” the document states.

O’Connell said that Toray is the manufacturer of the current equipment and is approved by the EPA for the treatment plant’s treatment process.

“That’s why it’s specific to Toray and not other membranes,” he said.

Also at the meeting, council:

• Heard from John Whitson, of Whitson Properties LLC, which is an applicant for a proposed zoning change for approximately 20.71 acres located along South Dunbridge Road, just north of 525 S. Dunbridge Road. The proposed change is from A-1 Agricultural to R-4 Multiple-Family; a 288-unit apartment complex is planned for the site. Last month the planning commission voted 4-3 to recommend the change to council; a public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday.

Whitson said his company has owned that property for 30 years.

“It’s still Bowling Green on the east side of the highway, and I’d like to see you guys embrace that side of the highway a little bit more,” he said. “I really think (this development) is a bonus, this is a gift to the community. … (Industrial workers) need a place to live.”

Whitson opined that it could help spark development in the area.

“These kind of builds don’t come along very often,” he said.

• Saw former council members Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino presented with copies of the previously approved legislation recognizing their service to council.

• Voted to excuse the absence of Councilman Jeff Dennis from the meeting.