NEWBERRY — Imagine that you could see the balance of your utility bill as it is accrued rather than being surprised by your bill at the end of the month. This is the new concept of the City of Newberry’s PayGo prepaid billing option for residential customers.
Utility Director Tim Baker said while the city has officially started to roll out the PayGo system, that prepaid billing is only one component of that, and customers can still choose to continue with their current way of receiving bills.
What is prepaid billing?
With prepaid billing, city residential utility customers can pay for their utilities how and when they choose. By purchasing their utilities before they use them, this system allows the customer to manage their budget and pay how much they want when they’re able.
Instead of a monthly billing statement, utility usage is calculated daily and customers can track that usage by smartphone or online.
“Instead of our customers seeing their utility bill a month later, with prepaid billing they can more closely monitor their consumption and control their usage accordingly,” said Finance Director Shannon Smith.
The pilot program for prepaid billing, Smith said began about a year ago and currently has approximately 80 users signed up within the program. The City of Newberry is one of the only municipalities in the country to offer this service.
So how does it work? Smith said customers purchase utilities before they are used and payments can be made when the customer wants – whether online (www.newberryutilities.com), over the phone, at City Hall or at one of the city’s retail partners to include Dollar General and Family Dollar. New partners are constantly being added, Smith said, and more will be included in the future.
When an account is running low on funds, the customer will receive an alert by phone, email or text message, to let them know it’s time to reload their account. Smith said this will give the customer time to purchase utilities before the meter actually stops. A customer account can be reloaded 24 hours per day online or at any of the city’s partner locations during their business hours.
If more utilities are not purchased, the meter will disconnect. Once a payment is made, utilities will reconnect on their own, usually within an hour without a disconnection or reconnection fee involved.
Power in Your Hands
Smith said since the pilot program she has not heard many negative comments from users about the system.
“It really does help people manage their usage because they can log on and see it every day,” Smith said.
For those considering the prepaid system – the analogy the city uses is to think of it the same as putting gas in a car – you pay for it before you use it and can purchase a small amount every few days or fill up the tank and not worry about it for a couple of weeks.
“When your supply is low, you purchase more,” Baker said.
Baker said many customers do not consider that the city must purchase the power it sells to its customers.
“If the city can purchase less power while the resident is able to lower their bills, it is a win-win situation for all and is what makes the prepaid billing such an exciting new tool,” Baker said.
While the prepaid billing option will certainly benefit many of the city’s customers, Baker said it may not be the best option for every customer.
City Manager Matt DeWitt said the new PayGo prepaid billing system puts the power back into the hands of the customer.
“It will hopefully empower them to better manage their consumption and may in turn, lower their monthly bills,” DeWitt said.
For more information on the PayGo prepaid billing system, customers may contact the City of Newberry’s Finance Department at 803-321-1007.