WEIRTON The Weirton Area Water Board discussed the future implementation of an online payment processing system at their regular meeting Thursday.
Although the kinks are not worked out yet, city residents will soon be able to pay utility bills with checks or credit cards online through the Utilities Online Access System. SmartBill currently offers customers a chance to view or print their statements online, and the board is hopeful that a link to the payment system will be located on the same page. The option to pay via the website is expected to become available sometime within the first few months of the new year.
"The city takes payments for three different entities all rolled into one, and that's why things may take a little bit longer than we like," Finance Director Tom Maher explained.
Water, sewer and garbage rates fall under the same bill but ultimately end up in different funds, which is one complicating factor, according to officials. Another variable holding up the process was security to protect financial information.
"The new security device has been installed as part of our ongoing upgrade to further protect our city databases," Maher said. "So now that it's operating we will be negotiating agreements with Magic-Wrighter Inc., and we expect the go-live date to not be far behind."
The biggest potential problem is that credit card payments will not register with the city in real time, but in daily "batches." This means that all credit card payments made online in one day will be processed either that night or the next morning, which could result in incorrect late fees.
Utilities Director Butch Mastrantoni suggested a "grace period" or even changing the time frame in which penalties are assessed in order to alleviate such an issue. Members of the water board intend to research more options and will continue to keep abreast on the project.
In other business, Mitch Bruich reported there are currently 248 delinquent utility bills with the next shut-off date falling on Jan. 6.
"I foresee a lot of payments coming in before the end of the week," Bruich said. "I don't expect any problems getting it done. In fact, the number is pretty low."
The board also heard updates from Wayne Morgan of Thrasher Engineering regarding work at the treatment plant and the East End tank. Morgan was standing in for Jonathan Carpenter, who was unable to attend the meeting because of a prior commitment. While there are no significant updates on the treatment plant, Morgan relayed to the board that a pre-construction conference for the East End tank will need to take place sometime in January. Limited exterior work will be done through the winter months. When spring arrives, the tank will be painted and other aspects of the project will begin.
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