MLT City Council approves new utility billing services vendor

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers meet Monday night on Zoom.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its June 21 regular business meeting approved a proposal authorizing the city to contract with a new company to provide utility billing and contract processing services.

Previously, the City of Mountlake Terrace had contracted for many years with Automatic Funds Transfer Services (AFTS) to print and mail its utility bills and serve as the processor for customers who mailed those payments to the company’s postal account, which is considered a “lockbox” service. However, in February the company’s computer systems were breached, during which time they were unable to then process bills. AFTS later notified the city that after further investigation it was determined none of the Mountlake Terrace customer information was breached, and the data exposure had occurred in the business unit servicing real estate loans.

That breach prompted the city to begin seeking other companies that could provide the necessary utility bill printing and mailing, lockbox services and online account management services. City staff told the council they were unhappy not only with the data breach itself, but also that AFTS delayed even notifying the city of the potential problem.

The city subsequently received six proposals for those services, including one from AFTS, which were then vetted by a selection team comprised of directors and staff from the finance and IT departments.

Output Services Group (OSG) ranked highest overall on a combination of scoring criteria. Finance Director Crystil Wooldridge explained that while OSG’s bid was $11,000 more annually than the lowest proposal, it provided the next lowest bid while also offering more services than the city currently receives. For example, staff believes that the company will provide additional security because it does all the required work in-house rather than subcontracting portions out to other companies. In addition, OSG’s utility bills are designed so they are easy for ratepayers to read and understand, compared to the current bills.

Contracting with OSG provides utility customers and city staff with additional services including:

– Text, email and phone notification of new bills, late notices and payments.

– Customers will be able to establish auto pay for a set amount or the amount due, and the system

will notify them if there is still a balance owing afterward.

– Customers can pay as a guest and reset their account password directly.

– City staff will have the ability to track when the statements go out for delivery and when a

return envelope is heading back to the payment processing center, which can help them avoid shutting off services when the payment is in transit.

– OSG is in the process of establishing payment sites with stores such as CVS Pharmacy and 7-Eleven, which will enable customers to make cash and check payments in ways that may be more convenient for them.

– OSG is also in the process of partnering with digital wallet platforms and online payment systems such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal.

The combination of scoring factors used in the process, which included OSG’s references, along with its added features and convenience measures for customers led to the selection team’s recommendation that OSG be chosen for the contract. Wooldridge said that OSG’s pricing was still competitive and estimated the contract would save the city approximately $30,000 per year due to the company’s large size and its resulting ability to get better pricing on materials and postage, while also keeping costs lower by not outsourcing portions of services it’s contracted to provide.

While most on the council voiced support for the contract proposal and services, some councilmembers expressed their reservations about holding a vote on it Monday night and preferred to table the motion until their next regular business meeting July 6. The measure had been tentatively scheduled for this week, but city staff hadn’t provided councilmembers with the contract and related information for them to review until Monday. Those in favor of delaying the measure felt it would give them time to look over the proposal and that the process shouldn’t be rushed.

City staff apologized and explained that putting together the contract information packet for the council to review had been delayed due to moving into the new City Hall over the weekend.

A motion to table voting on the contract until the council’s next meeting failed to pass with only three councilmembers supporting it.

Councilmembers in favor of approving the contract on Monday night said they were comfortable with the vetting process already carried out by city staff and the recommendation as provided.

The five-year service contract with OSG was ultimately approved by a vote of 5-2, with Councilmembers Erin Murray and Steve Woodard dissenting.

A public hearing was held on the adoption of updated engineering details and specifications along with associated code changes. City Engineer Jesse Birchman told the council that updating the 2016 document, which identifies the materials to be used in the construction of city infrastructure, was needed for several reasons. Among them: to reflect current practices, maintenance needs, recent municipal code changes and Town Center updates, and to help with document reorganization and consolidation. Staff also recommended the document’s title be changed from “Engineering Standards” to “Engineering Details & Specifications,” which they felt would help eliminate confusion by distinguishing it from the development standards that require a different review under the state’s Growth Management Act.

Councilmembers unanimously approved the measure; no public comments were offered during the process.

In other business, the council heard a report on the 2021 state legislative session from State Sen. Jesse Salomon (D) of the 32nd Legislative District, which includes parts of Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and Edmonds. “We passed a lot of bills; I think we did a lot of good things,” he said.

Salomon pointed first to budgeting priorities accomplished, which included funding for the redevelopment project at Ballinger Park. He added that he enjoys going to the park with his family and was looking forward to “the habitat restoration, the environmental restoration and just whatever design we could implement there to make it even better. I think it’s a lovely place, so I was happy to work for that.”

Salomon also mentioned other notable achievements, including those involving criminal justice reforms, police accountability, and improving habitats for salmon.

Salomon then asked the councilmembers for their priorities moving forward, and those included supporting the continued process of creating master plans for both Ballinger Park and Veteran’s Memorial Park, the ongoing revitalization project along Main Street, renovation work at the Recreation Pavilion, efforts to address homelessness, and further environmental protections for salmon and their habitats.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the measures on its consent calendar, including:

Canceling its July 1 work/study session.

– Awarding a contract to King County Directors Association and Great Western Recreation for the new playground to be built at Ballinger Park. (See last week’s article from the council’s work/study session for more about the playground’s design and costs.)

– Approving amendments to two professional agreements for services related to the Civic Campus project. One provides ARC Architects with $48,000 more in funding for additional construction administration and support services. Another which provides FSi Engineering with approximately $4,000 for services related to commissioning the project’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

– Authorizing a small works contract for nearly $104,000 with Stripe Rite for providing city-wide roadway striping maintenance over the next three years. That contract’s funding will be provided by the city’s street maintenance fund.

– Compiling all policies adopted in the City of Mountlake Terrace’s Comprehensive Plan that are relevant to greenhouse gas reduction into a standalone draft version of a greenhouse gas reduction policy.

– Approving subcommittee recommendations for two reappointments, for members whose terms expired, and one interim appointment to the Mountlake Terrace Arts Advisory Commission and one interim appointment to the Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Park Advisory Commission. Both interim appointments replaced members of those commissions who had resigned.

The full agenda of items discussed at Monday night’s meeting, along with any related materials and/or attachments, can be viewed here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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