Utility Fee Petition

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COLUMBIA - A group of Columbia residents is petitioning the city to reverse the addition of a utility convenience fee it instituted in September. The convenience fee charges city utility customers an additional $4.60 for paying their bill online.

The petition has been circulating on the website change.org. Columbia Assistant Finance Director Lynn Cannon said the fee is saving the city money. In 2012, Columbia paid about $450,000 to cover credit card fees for its customers.

Cannon said costs are going up every year.

"The city can't afford to continue to absorb those types of costs," she said.

About 25 to 30 percent of city utility customers pay online.

"It's going to be able to save the city money so that we are neutral then and then we are able to actually allow those utility departments to provide additional services and to make enhancements, and ultimately save the citizens," said Cannon.

She said the rising rates could affect everyone if the new fee is removed.

"They are going to eventually have to up their rates to cover their cost and ultimately that will impact all the city utility customers, not just those that choose to pay via credit card or through the phone using electronic checks," Cannon said.

Utility customer Bridget Botchway-Bradley signed the petition Thursday.

"This is outrageous. I am outraged. And I don't have a car. It's not like I can go and pay and I have to pay it on time," she said.

Botchway-Bradley said the city should pay for the maintenance fees.

"It's not something that we should be paying for. The old system is fine," she said.

The website reports 242 people have signed the petition so far. The creators need 1,758 supporters to move forward. The city is encouraging customers to use automatic withdrawal as  free alternative to the new convenience fee.