Sunday, December 21, 2014

The city taketh away and giveth at the same time - the Lake Worth Utility App.

People were surprised to get this announcement from the city.  Some posted it on various Lake Worth pages on Facebook and it generated some keyboard ire. I believe they had them at the counter where you pay your utility bill.

I used to pay regularly on-line, but within the past two months, I've had trouble with accessing the website payment portal. It says it can't confirm my password and I try to reset it, to no avail. (Ultimately I had to reset it and found a way to do it was to install what I am about to describe.) And, if you do pay online, you need to use Microsoft Explorer as your browser, which I haven't used in years. When it was working for me, it was fine and you got a confirmation which you could print out or save, which gave you a bit of assurance. Oh, but you couldn't save your payment information, even if you told it to save the information in your "billfold." You had to re-enter it every time.

Since having my on-line problems I have decided to pay in person. The cashier area in the City Hall Annex has been removed from the customer service area (a blessing). And the area is actually attractive, with a nautical or seaside theme, complete with ropes and seashells.

After January 1st, per the notice above, you will pay $2 per bill as a "convenience fee" each time you pay your bill as a "walk-in". You can see other methods that do not carry a charge including online payments, drop box, etc. in the notice above. The downside to any non-attended payment method is that you really do not get a receipt and are unsure of whether or not your transaction happened and when.

There are also many people in Lake Worth that use cash regularly and do not have bank accounts. Thus, a $2 fee may be more of an impact to our population compared with other cities. And, as you will read below,  I don't think that the average Lake Worthian will be able to navigate through the process that I describe in order to avoid the fee.

So, imagine my surprise when I received this included with this month's utility bill.
I will skip to the chase and tell you that I was able to install the scanner and the app on one of my devices, and eventually was able to pay my bill via the device. But there are some things of which you must be aware before starting down this road. It is not an easy trip. This is coming from someone who is more tech savvy than average, IMHO.

These suggestions apply only to Android devices. Your experience on an iPhone may be different.

Do's and Don'ts:

  •  Do not type "City of Lake Worth" into the Google Play app. These are the sorts of results you will get if you do - see above. The City of Lake Worth utility app will not be one of them.
  • Do install the QR Scan app first. This is an easy search on Google Play and there are many options. I chose the one that was listed first and it worked as intended.
  • Do activate the QR scanning app, tap on the appropriate area that says something like "Scan QR Code". Then hover your device over the QR code on the bottom left part of the sheet that the city sent with your utility bill. It will instantly recognize the QR code. Then click the lower left area of the screen that says "Go to Website."
  • Do that and your screen will look like this.
    Notice that it says that "Your device is not compatible with this version." This was first attempted with a new Galaxy Note 4. I tried it on my Galaxy 3 and it would have worked. I tried it on my Nexus 7 tablet, which was compatible, and I was able to install it on that device.  Eventually, like I said, I was able to pay my bill.
    • Do have your Google password ready as it will ask you for that before it installs the app. That is the prompt after you hit "install." 
    • Do have your utility bill handy as it will ask you for your utility account number. You can find that on the upper right-hand part of your bill. However, if you enter that number once you activate the app, it won't recognize the account. It turns out that you have to enter 4 leading zeros to the first set of numbers left of the dash and 5 leading zeros after the dash. For example, if your account number is XXXX-YYYY, you would enter 0000XXXX-00000YYYY. Nowhere in the app does this tell you to do this. I stumbled upon this fact while trying to change my password to a new one using the city's existing system on the website. There you can see the leading zeros on the screen you use to change your password. This will be lost on many who try this. I have already submitted a comment to the app provider through the app itself, along with other suggestions, so I will let you know what sort of response I get.
    • Do use a capital letter in your password and follow all other instructions as to number of letters, etc.
    • Do not use the full name of the state the credit card bill is sent to. It will not process the payment and give you an invalid response. Do only use the two letter abbreviation for the state. 
    • If successful, you will get a notification on your screen that will acknowledge that your payment was made. My first successful attempt was done on a Sunday, so you can pay your bill anytime of the week or time of day.
    • The main screen will also display your last month's bill, which is nice. There are also ways to check your historic consumption of water and electric back to January 2013, which is also a nice feature. This feature is also available online if you care to check it out there.
    The good news is that if you get through the installation process, you will be emailed a coupon! It turns out the coupon will look like this and it is for a Dunkin' Donuts treat:
    The "oops" here is that the coupon is not for a business in the city of Lake Worth. It isn't good for the one that replaced the one that we did have in the City that is now on South Dixie Hwy. in West Palm Beach. These are the locations where you can redeem your coupon. [Added later: the 10th Avenue North location is within the city limits of Lake Worth. I would recommend you go there.]
    So, remember IT CAN BE DONE. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE. You just need to devote a lot of time to it, it is not intuitive and you need the correct device.

    I hope that this helps someone before they think they've hit a dead end.