Monday, November 20, 2017
News Roundup

St. Petersburg gets grant to help those who pay utility bills late

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ST. PETERSBURG — The city is embarking on a program to help residents who consistently have trouble paying their utility bills.

At the same time, officials also are exploring whether to allow residents the option of paying utility bills directly from their bank accounts as a way to avoid extra fees associated with credit and debit card processing.

Council members were concerned about the $2 credit card processing fee residents are charged for paying their bills online. In recent meetings, council member Darden Rice said she wondered if the fee discouraged people from using the more environmental-friendly paperless system.

On Thursday, council members agreed to talk about the fee in depth at an upcoming workshop.

Officials also agreed to accept a $20,000 grant from the National League of Cities, which picked a handful of governments to participate in the LIFT-UP (Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment through Utility Payments) initiative. The others cities are Houston, Newark and Savannah.

For the next two years, the four cities will identify residents who have chronic problems paying their utility bills and seek to connect them with services to help them become financially secure.

Council member Karl Nurse said the goal is to "help people get a step away from the edge so that they don't fall into the same cycle over and over again."

In addition to teaching people financial literacy, the program will likely include restructured debt payment options. Each year, the city spends lots of money going after late payers, Nurse said.

"Hopefully coming out of this we can find a model that helps people," he said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

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