Smithfield residents can pay their utility bills online through a new Internet portal that went live this month.
In September, after negotiating with several vendors, the Town of Smithfield chose NCO Financial Systems Inc. to provide the online service. Residents can access NCO’s web portal by clicking on the “Pay a Utility Bill” link on the home page of the town’s website, www.smithfield-nc.com.
Customers who pay their bills online will have to pay a fee of $2.45 per transaction.
Also, because NCO is not the same company that provides the town’s utility accounting software, customers will have to input their account number, address and balance they owe each time they make a payment.
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“It’s a little slow in a sense of when you pay your bill, you have to put the same information in each time,” said Smithfield Town Manager Paul Sabiston.
Sabiston’s staff has said integrating the payment service and the town’s utility accounting software would be ideal and allow customers to see their real-time balances and payment and usage histories. However, if the town held that information, the service would cost more and create security risks, Sabiston said.
Customers can still pay their bills in person at Town Hall, by mailing a check or by phoning in a payment (1-855-331-7952). Anyone with questions can call Public Utilities at 919-934-2116, Ext. 1105 or 1113.
At its meeting last week, the Smithfield Town Council approved a master plan for a beautification project along U.S. 70 Business from the Neuse River bridge to Wilson’s Mill Road.
The plan, which includes planting vegetation and tweaking some driveways, will now go before the state Department of Transportation for review. The DOT has agreed to pay for the project. The town will be responsible for maintenance.
Residents and business owners along the beautification route viewed the plans in December and provided feedback to town staff. Planning Director Paul Embler said based on the public’s comments, the town has planned to widen some driveways.
Embler said about 90 percent of landowners along the route voiced input about the project.
Sidewalk improvements are not part of the plan, as Embler said the DOT pays for those types of upgrades through a different funding source.
The stretch of land is one of the main gateways to downtown Smithfield, and council member Emery Ashley said the improvements have been a long time coming.
“This has been a 30-year process that a lot of people wanted for beautification and entrances,” Ashley said.
Also last week, the council agreed to promote a water plant operator to also be the town’s chemist, a move that will save Smithfield about $43,000.
The town has not had a water-treatment chemist since 2012, relying instead on contractors to provide the service. However, one of the town’s treatment operators, at his own initiative and expense, went back to school to earn his associate’s degree in bio-process technology.
Ken Griffin, the town’s director of public utilities, said the employee, Danny Pacheco, will be the town’s chemist but retain his duties as a plant operator. Pacheco’s salary will increase about $12,000, but the town will save $43,202 by not having to hire a new chemist.
More than the cost savings, Griffin said, Pacheco’s in-house service to the town will provide flexibility in the case of an emergency, such as a boil-water advisory.
“Every hour saved means so much to the residents and the businesses,” Griffin said. “We see that as a real positive.”