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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Tampa residents will be able to pay water bills at Amscot

TAMPA - City residents soon will be able to pay their water bills at their nearest Amscot location. The City Council approved a measure this week that makes the payday lender a surrogate for the city's utility department. It's not clear when the company will start taking payments. The city still must work out the necessary computer connections, said Sonya Little, the city's finance director. Amscot has 14 locations around Tampa and another 16 in elsewhere in Hillsborough County.
The abundance of locations will make it more convenient than the current system for people to pay their bills directly, which requires a trip to the German American Club on Nebraska Avenue, Little said. "We were looking for a low-cost, convenient option for our customers," Little told city council members on Thursday. The city also accepts payments by mail and online. Under its agreement with the city, Amscot will charge customers $1 to process cash payments. After the close of business each day, Amscot will send the city a list of paid bills and transfer the money to the city coffers. The proposal drew a sharp critique from Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. Montelione worried the city was feeding Amscot a stream of customers that might be enticed to borrow from the lender, which is known for high interest rates. "Spreading out locations is good," Montelione said. "However, an agreement with a corporation like Amscot is not something I can support." She suggested approaching a grocery chain to perform the same function. Other council members dismissed her objection. Councilman Harry Cohen said the Clerk of the Circuit Court also worked with Amscot to collect traffic-ticket payments. Council members approved the proposal 6-1. Ian A. MacKechnie, Amscot's executive vice president, said the Tampa-based company has similar agreements with dozens of other governments and utilities across central and southern Florida. "It's a big part of our business," he said. MacKechnie said Montelione's concerns about people being drawn into loans they can't afford is unfounded. "The majority of the people who use our bill pay services don't do any other business with us," he said. Also on Thursday, Montelione became the first council member to participate remotely in a council meeting. Montelione, whose mother died this week, was in Melbourne at the time of the council meeting. She was patched into the council chamber by speakerphone, which let her participate in most discussions and vote by voice. She was prohibited from taking part in several zoning actions because they required council members to be present in the room for arguments. Council members approved a remote-participation ordinance late last year as a response to Chairman Charlie Miranda's extended absence from the council because of surgery.

kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7871 Twitter: kevinw_trib

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