Paperless billing for Lexington utilities is slow to catch on, not universally available

The bills for Lexington's new LEXserv City Services billing program are beginning to hit mailboxes now, and that's where they'll continue to be found for at least another few months.

Some other area utilities offer paperless billing online, but the city is not yet set to implement that, said Bill O'Mara, director of the Division of Revenue.

He noted it's an evolving process for the city as it seeks to begin collecting fees that had long been gathered on its behalf by Kentucky American Water.

Effective Sept. 1, Kentucky American Water stopped collecting fees related to the city's landfill, sanitary sewers and water-quality management. The city hired Cincinnati Water Works to handle collection of the fees. The amounts did not change.

O'Mara said the city has a paperless program in development that will e-mail residents to alert them to the latest bill rather than mail them their invoice, but it's not yet ready.

"There is a start-up design and programming, but we're holding off on working on that until we make sure the bills go out correctly," he said.

O'Mara estimated it would be the beginning of 2013 before the e-billing option becomes a reality.

Kentucky American Water is also looking to begin a paperless billing option soon. While the utility already has a feature-rich online account system set up, it's not yet possible to stop receiving your bills through regular mail.

Spokeswoman Susan Lancho said that while the option "is in motion, I don't have a specific date on the launch."

"We know from a convenience standpoint that a lot of customers like paperless billing," she said. "It's a green option, too."

Both Kentucky Utilities and Columbia Gas of Kentucky have long offered such options, though not as many people use them as one might think.

Columbia Gas has 11,500 of its roughly 140,000 customers enrolled in its paperless billing option.

The company has offered the option since 1999 using third-party vendors but developed its own system in 2009.

"We are seeing strong growth in customer preference for paperless billing due to its convenience and the control it offers them in managing their accounts," Smith said. "Since we introduced our new mobile application in January, we've noticed another spike in enrollments."

At Kentucky Utilities, only 3.4 percent of customers use the company's paperless service, which started in 2002. When you factor in KU's affiliated companies Louisville Gas and Electric and Old Dominion Power, the stat rises just slightly to 3.9 percent, said spokesman Cliff Feltham.

Feltham said that beyond promotional inserts in mailed bills, the company has taken a hands-on approach to encouraging more sign-ups by placing computers in the lobbies of its customer service centers.

"We've had a customer service representative posted at the computer and asked if the customers would like to be given an orientation or sign up," he said. "That's met with some pretty good success, but it's slow in coming, and I think people need to be oriented to it first before they jump in."