After dealing with high electric bills and issues associated with the new utility billing system last year, some Independence ratepayers encountered a new source of consternation – a $4.95 convenience fee for online payments made with credit or debit cards.

The city said it is trying to renegotiate its contract for credit-card processing and hopefully lower that fee.

The city said the $4.95 figure represented the average fee charged by its credit card vendor Paymentus, as by state law the city cannot profit on such fees.

The convenience fees went into effect Jan. 1 after a 4-3 City Council majority turned down a resolution in December to postpone the fees indefinitely. The council had voted in June 2018 to delay implementing them for six months.

The city estimated last June that about 40 percent of its 57,000 ratepayers pay utility bills with credit or debit cards or by eCheck. The city had been covering the convenience fees – estimated at $600,000 a year.

Earlier this month, City Manager Zach Walker told the council he hoped to have some answers soon regarding renegotiation. The current contract runs through 2021.

“We have let the vendor know that we are exceptionally unhappy with what we're being assessed for that right now,” Walker said. “They know where we stand on this, and Bryan (Kidney, the city's director of finance and administration) has dealt with this before.”

Kidney encountered the same issue in his previous job in Lawrence, Kansas, Walker said, and was able to help ratepayers a bit.

“I don't want to over-promise, but I believe there's some early indications – it's never going to be a free service, but (we can get) a significant reduction in the cost,” Walker said. “Much more in line with what other utilities and municipalities are assessing.”

The convenience fees are $4.95 per transaction for utility bills and 2.95 percent per card transaction or 50 cents for eCheck payments for non-utility bills such as business licenses, permits or court payments.

The convenience fee does not apply to mail-in payments or any form of walk-in payment, and utility customers who have signed up for automated bank draft payments are not charged.