SUNNYSIDE — Long lines can been seen outside city hall on the 20th of each month as many residents wait to pay their city utility bills.
With social distancing efforts the order of the day, people stand at six-foot distances while waiting to go into the city hall one at a time. Sometimes the line reaches from City Hall’s front lobby on East Edison Avenue, extending around the corner
Longtime city resident Melba Fujiura now drops off her payment in one of the convenient payment boxes located outside city hall.
“I used to always go in [person]. They recommended dropping it off in the last statement,” she noted.
“Many customers are still paying in person. Although more residents are taking advantage of the two drop boxes located at city hall,” asserted City Manager Martin Casey.
The city has installed a large drop box at City Hall facing South Ninth Street and another one is located just inside city hall lobby, he advised.
Meanwhile, Charlene Maling admits she usually pays in person. “(I) have not tried online access for years. It might work now,” Maling conceded, acknowledging that standing in line now takes longer.
Other residents like the ability to pay online and most have not had problems with the system.
“I pay online,” said Liisa Olson Pangle. “I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and haven’t had any problems,” she asserted.
Rather than stand in line, Lucia Romero also uses the city’s express bill pay online.
“It’s so much easier,” she noted.
As more people have moved to paying online during the recent COVID-19 social distancing orders, the city’s online express pay payment program, the city has faced its own hurdles.
City Finance Director Elizabeth Alba said residents attempting to pay their utility bills via express pay have ran into their own kind of lines.
“The system has experienced increased number of new bill payers accessing the program,” she reported.
Alba confirmed the system, which is used by many cities, became so overwhelmed with a high volume of calls by regular and new users the system failed earlier this month.
“It shut down for over an hour Friday [April 10] as residents attempted pay their bills online,” she explained.
“We ask people to be patient and to keep trying or go ahead and use the 1-800 number,” Alba said.
“So far it now seems to be working well,” she conveyed.
City water bills are due on the 20th of the month and considered past due on the 10th, Casey explained. Casey said that late fees are being waived due to the pandemic.
He said the Council had authorized him to temporarily extend administrative deadlines or waive administrative penalties for non-payment of utility bills, license fees, and permit application fees due to COVID-19 hardship.