Utility bill outsourcing is cheaper

Concerning Medford's utility bills, why are the payments being sent to Portland? I'm pretty sure that whatever company is doing the processing of checks is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Couldn't the city find a local company instead of outsourcing?

— Bob S., Medford

The city tried to find a local company, but no one was interested, Bob. In fact, the city received 23 proposals for printing and mailing and eight proposals for payment processing, but none were from local companies.

Your criticism has been a common reaction after the city of Medford and the Medford Water Commission split billing.

Some Medford residents have refused to send their bills to Portland, even though the postage cost is the same as sending it locally. As a result, the mail gets returned undeliverable, which means more time and energy is lost.

" 'Why is it not here in Medford?' is a question we get all the time," said Lorraine Peterson, Public Works business manager. "The answer is that it is cheaper to outsource than to bring it in house."

The city would have to buy software and other equipment plus hire two or three full-time people to process some 25,000 bills every month.

The contract to process the payments through Bank of the Cascades in combination with Retail Lockbox Services is budgeted at up to $100,000 annually. The budget to print and mail the payments through Billtrust is $90,000 annually. By the way, Bob, the city does its banking through Bank of the Cascades.

Payments can be made by check or electronically. Paying electronically is cheaper.

The city expects to have a payment method set up through its website in about a week.

Peterson said the city looked at setting up a postal box in Medford but couldn't find one large enough to handle the volume of mail. The city looked at having a couple of post-office boxes but determined it might be confusing.

Peterson said the city will analyze the billing program after the three-year contract has concluded. At that point, the city might decide to bring the billing in-house if it can be done economically, she said.

The cost for residents to buy a stamp to send mail to Portland or Medford is the same. The city also has boxes set up throughout the city where residents can hand deliver their bills and save the postage. One of the boxes is behind City Hall.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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