Hughes moves for paperless billing opt-out

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Coun. Sheena Hughes wants to solve a problem for St. Albert residents who can’t access their utility bill online because they live without internet.

Hughes is bringing a motion to council that will look at establishing an opt-out program for residents who would otherwise have to pay a small monthly fee starting July 1, 2019, to receive their utility bills by regular mail.

Hughes said the motion was spurred by feedback from residents, particularly seniors, who do not have internet service to their homes. The response came following a decision last month by city council to start charging residents a small monthly fee on their utility bills unless they opt-in to paperless billing.

“If you don’t have access to the internet, you should not be penalized for not getting your bill via the internet,” she said, echoing a comment she made last month before casting the sole vote against paperless billing.

“I put forward the motion to hopefully help out those people who either can’t or don’t understand email, don’t have ready access to internet and can’t get their bill that way.”

She points to a medical waste program the city introduced in April to give an extra garbage cart to residents with a lot of medical waste as a model of how an opt-out could work for paperless billing.

She said the opt-out could include a requirement for people to fill out a form declaring they do not have internet, similar to the form people with high medical waste must fill out.

“I think if someone went to all the work of going down to city hall and completing the form, stating (you) don’t have internet, then you really don’t have internet,” she said.

She expects about 50 people to opt out.

City council made the move toward paperless billing on May 22, at the same time they decided to start sending out bills monthly instead of every two months. The latter decision would have meant the city would double its cost of sending out paper utility bills, which right now runs St. Albert about $113,000 each year.

Both decisions take effect July 1, 2019.

People who do not opt-in to paperless billing will be charged a fee of around $1 per month.

Council voted 6-1 in favour of introducing paperless billing.

Hughes said she expects her motion to come to council before city council takes its summer break in July.

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