Fort Dodge residents are opening their mailboxes to find something new there from the city's utility billing office.
Those envelopes do not contain ominous warnings that the water is about to be shut off.
Instead, they contain a new version of the monthly water bills that were printed on postcards for decades.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
City of Fort Dodge treasurer Michelle Hefley shows an example of the new water bills city residents will start receiving alongside the old postcard-sized bill. The new billis — which are sent in an envelope — will allow the city to better communicate with residents about their services.
The new format will provide more information to residents, while requiring less staff time to produce, according to City Treasurer Michelle Hefley.
Hefley acknowledged that sending out a sheet of paper in an envelope will cost more in postage than mailing a postcard. However, she said the new system of producing the bills will enable the city to save money on printing and other costs. Hefley said the system, which cost $30,000, will pay for itself in two years.
A mandate from the United States Postal Service led to the revised water bill format. According to Hefley, the Postal Service will require bulk mailers such as the city to begin using Intelligent Mail Bar Codes by 2014. The city did not have the ability to print those bar codes, so a new system was necessary.
Water bills available by email
Fort Dodge residents can now get their water bills in their inboxes instead of their mailboxes.
The new billing system now in place provides the ability to send bills by email for the first time, according to City Treasurer Michelle Hefley.
Anyone who wants to get their bills by email should visit the utility billing office in the Municipal Building, 819 First Ave. S. or call the office at 573-7156.
"If you're going to have to make a capital expenditure you should look for ways to better what you're doing," Hefley said.
The new system purchased by the city prints the bills on plain white paper instead of postcards that had to be ordered and delivered to the Municipal Building. It can crank out 5,100 bills - one half of the total - in about two hours. The old system took almost 24 hours to print the bills, and city employees had to come into the utility billing office at night to make sure the machine was running properly.
A new machine automatically folds the bills and stuffs them into envelopes.
Hefley said the system includes software that regularly verifies every address in the Water Department system with a Postal Service data base.
The new bills contain all the data found on the familiar postcards. There's also space on them for messages about things like changes in the sanitation collection schedule or fire hydrant flushing. According to Hefley, an additional page can be inserted in the envelope with the bill so that other information can be mailed to residents along with the bills. Hefley said that insertion ability will reduce the need to mail other documents and thus reduce postage costs.
Envelopes for mailing the bills back to the city will not be inserted. Hefley said that's because the majority of people pay their bills in person at the Municipal Building or use a drop box at the rear of the building.