Council moves towards digital water billing 

The City of Prince Albert has more than 1,200 water utility accounts that have not been upgraded with new water meter software, although 447 account holders have booked appointments. -- Herald File Photo

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Prince Albert city council has voted to make digital billing the default setup for all new water utility hookups.

Council has considered the idea at previous meetings, and it came up again during budget deliberations on the water utility fund on Wednesday.

Coun. Blake Edwards made the motion and has brought up the subject in previous meetings. 

“The motion is in place because monthly billing is costing us a lot of money,” he said. “This is a way to get people to move on to email.” 

Administration said that normally about 20 per cent all utility bills are sent out digitally, which accounts for roughly 2,000 bills.

The water utility budget includes a line for postage and freight, which has changed from actual costs of almost $43,000 in 2018 to a budgeted request of $100,000 this year. The amount could also include mailings that are not bills. 

That money is not the only cost attached to mailing bills however as staff hours are required to prepare and send the invoices either manually or digitally. 

A breakdown of how much it actually would cost or save along with other factors was requested in a report to be completed in 2022. They were also asked to look at what other organizations, such as provincial utilities do and to come up with ideas for incentives to get people to switch. 

Coun. Don Cody asked about the people who do not have a computer.

“If you’ve got the opportunity to get an email that’s fine, then do it. But if you haven’t got that opportunity, and you don’t have a computer, this doesn’t seem very fair to those people,” he said. 

Edwards proposed that people who want a paper bill can still get one. either by paying an extra $2/month to have it mailed to them or by going to City Hall in person and getting a copy. 

People without computers can also use the free ones at the public library, he said. 

Cody said he is not opposed to the idea of paperless billing but wanted to make sure there would be no hardship. 

“There are people out there that don’t have a computer and it is not fair to make them pay $2 when they have no ability to do otherwise,” he said. 

Mayor Greg Dionne said he would only support the change if it did not apply to existing accounts. Dionne said it should apply to new accounts only.

Coun. Tony Head said he preferred to use incentives over forced changes. 

“I prefer to see incentives to get people to sign up,” he said. “Maybe the incentive program is monetary.”

Council continued their deliberations on Dec. 2 but no further information was available prior to press time.