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Pushed by the coronavirus threat, Napa launched online water bill payments last week
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Pushed by the coronavirus threat, Napa launched online water bill payments last week

Napa looks into increasing water rates (copy)

Napa city water officials hope to see more bills paid on the new online platform, which launched last week

No more standing in line to pay your city of Napa water bill.

No more mailing in your bill with a first-class stamp.

Because of urgency created by the coronavirus pandemic, the city last week began an online water bill payment system that allows easy bill paying from the security of the customer’s home.

Bret Prebula, the finance director who joined the city in October, said his team had earlier hired Paymentus, a vendor that provides paperless billing to more than 1,500 clients across all sectors. The initial roll-out was planned for mid- or late May, Prebula said.

But the arrival of COVID-19 changed plans across every level of government, and council and staff wanted the availability of for public use to be a top priority, he said.

“With social distance and our focus on community health and safety, we knew that we needed to get this thing going as quickly as possible,” City Manager Steve Potter said.

City staff and the vendor pushed up the schedule, accelerating the launch by roughly 45 days, Prebula said, calling the eleventh-hour collaboration “phenomenal.”

The transition towards increased online billing doesn’t end here. Prebula said he’s in conversations with another vendor to make payments digital for transient occupancy tax and business licenses, citing an “informal goal” of 90 to 120 days until implementation.

“The idea is that we take this momentum and move very quickly because the community wants it. That’s how people function, and we need to catch up to the community,” he said.

Though the city has always offered drop-off or by-mail payment options, Potter recalled times when there would be “people lined up in the lobby at City Hall” hoping to pay the water bill in person.

“To make them take time out of their lunch hour to stand in line and pay a bill just isn’t good customer service, so we needed to change that,” he said.

There were earlier efforts to create an online water bill payment system but “we just could never get past the seventh inning,” Prebula said.

In addition to paying the bill, customers will see a digitized version of their statement and have access to their payment history. They can also sign up for recurring payments and receive notifications about their dues directly to their email or mobile device.

Users access the tool through the new website that went live late last week. Fifty customers made payments within the firsts five days, according to Prebula.

Residents can continue to elect to pay by mail or by drop-off at City Hall, but city leadership is optimistic that eventually the majority of people will make regular payments through the online platform.

“I think it’s easier. People are very comfortable paying bills online now. They’re used to using the computer for a lot of different reasons,” Potter said.

Less time at the counter means more time for staff to do work that engages more directly with the community.

“This doesn’t mean we’re not as customer service focused. It probably makes us better at customer service because it allows us to deploy staff and use them in ways that we can’t right now because so much of their time has to be spent at the counter,” Prebula said.

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

You may reach Carly Graf at cgraf@napanews.com; 713-817-4692; or via Twitter @carlykgraf.

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City of Napa reporter

Carly Graf covers Napa city government and community issues. She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. She most recently worked for a news outlet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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