On Tuesday night, multiple City of Fort Walton Beach residents spoke about late-fees they had incurred on their utility bill, despite having paid it on time.
First to bring up the issue was resident Larry Patrick, who told council that he primarily writes a check to pay his bill and has had three checks arrive late to the processing center.
“I have customarily mailed my water bills by check,” he said. “I had one that took 22 days to clear the bank. When I called the city, I was told that I could get one of those [late fees] waived since I hadn’t had a late fee in two years.”
- Others came up to podium to speak on the issue and state that they, too, had received late fees when mailing a check.
City Manager Michael Beedie told the council that he and staff were made aware of the issue a few weeks ago and have the city’s Customer Service Supervisor looking into the issue.
“We recently changed some of the process,” explained Beedie. “Our banking company, Hancock-Whitney, now handles a lot of the payments and processing of the payments. We do use a third-party billing company that prints the bills and mails them out. But from what I understand, the payments are processed locally through Hancock-Whitney.”
- According to the city, for the past few months, city staff has been working with residents on correcting the late-fee mistakes when it has been brought to their attention.
- When mailing a check, it goes to a PO Box address in Atlanta, GA.
At the end of the meeting, Councilman David Schmidt brought the late-fee issue up again and stated that he would like to see what could be done to forgive all of the late-fees for residents who were given the fee even though they paid on time.
- That prompted Councilman Travis Smith to make a motion to direct the city manager to forgive all of the fees for those residents who were affected by the processing error since October. The council voted unanimously to make it happen.
Utility bill payments have been mailed to Atlanta since August 11, 2021. The city told Get The Coast on Thursday that the processing company says that the holiday season, winter weather and staffing issues are the reasons for the delays.