City hall will shift credit card fees to customers

Bainbridge Island city hall may soon become more convenient for fee-paying residents.

But at what cost?

The city council gave a nod of approval to the city’s finance department to pursue the acceptance of credit and debit cards for payments at city hall, with the condition that the fees for the service be passed along to the customer.

Finance Director Ellen Schroer briefed the city council at its last meeting about the topic of accepting credit and debit card payments at city hall.

Currently, the only method to make payments at city hall is through cash or check.

“This is something consumers would like us to do,” Schroer told the council.

Schroer, however, wanted guidance from the council on how fees associated with the payment service should be handled.

Services that provide the ability to use credit or debit cards charge fees to use the system. Schroer wanted to know if the council was in favor of charging the fees to customers at city hall, or having the city absorb the fees.

The exact fees are unknown until the finance department begins shopping around for a service provider. Schroer was able to give the council some ballpark figures, however.

Fees for Visa and Mastercard are set by law.

“There’s a wide range of percentages both depending on the size of the transaction and the type of card,” Schroer told the council.

Schroer said that the fees are generally in the range of 1 percent and that there is also a fee for each transaction.

Banks are likely to have an additional percentage fee and a transaction fee.

If the city choses to use Sterling Bank — its current business bank — to run the electronic transactions, the service would have a .25 percent charge, and 15 cents per transaction fee.

Schroer noted that they do not expect to accept American Express cards, as those fees can be higher.

Mayor Debbi Lester supported both accepting credit cards at city hall and passing the fees along to consumers.

Lester recalled the time when she discovered the city did not accept cards. She tried to renew her business license but only had her credit card to pay the fee. With no checks for her business, she had to hop a ferry to Seattle and return with a check from her bank.

For the sake of convenience, Lester said she would have gladly paid a small fee to use her card.

“There are other people who are willing to pay immediately if they can provide their credit card,” Lester said. “For that convenience, I would pay a fee.”

Councilwoman Anne Blair and Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, also both business owners, agreed and supported passing along the fees to customers.

By unanimous vote, the council instructed the finance department to move forward with the plan to allow credit and debit card payments. The department will draft a plan with the provision that the fees for the service will be passed along to the customer.

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