FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT/Increasing revenues
During the past year and a half, Newport Beach, Calif., has improved its ability to recover money that it is owed and has made it easier for residents and businesses to pay their municipal bills. In January 2003, the city began operating a centralized database that, among other things, provides departments access to all of a resident’s or business’ billable account information at once. And, at the start of this year, the city launched a system that allows residents and businesses to pay municipal bills through the city’s Web site or by making one phone call. As a result, Newport Beach has increased revenues without raising taxes.
The database, developed by Newport Beach, has greatly increased the city’s efficiency in pursuing money owed it. The database assigns each resident an identification number. By entering the number on a computer, a service representative can simultaneously view the status of every resident’s or business’ billable accounts. If the person or commercial entity is past due on any municipal payments, such as utility bills, traffic tickets or other fees, then a city service may be withheld. For example, if a resident applying for a business license has five unpaid parking tickets, then the license will not be awarded until the tickets are paid.
Withholding services until all payments are current was not possible before because individual account information was located in different databases and not readily accessible to other department representatives. The database also contains links to state databases containing information about business license fees and local sales-tax revenues, and has allowed the county to recover more of those funds. In all, the database has recovered $625,000 in revenues for the city.
Earlier this year, Newport Beach launched online and phone systems designed to make it easier for residents and businesses to pay their municipal bills and fees. Instead of providing different account and personal identification numbers for each account, a person only has to enter the single identification number generated by the centralized database. Then, the person can access all accounts and pay any bills or fees instead of sending in separate checks for each account. After the transaction, the database registers the new information, and the account balance is updated almost immediately. Residents and businesses also can update or close multiple accounts simultaneously. Customers can review their payment history online or request a fax of the information by using the automated phone system.
The city contracted with Blacksburg, Va.-based Tele-Works to design the Web interface and telephone menus. Newport Beach officials estimate that up to 15 percent of residents and businesses are currently using the Web or telephone systems to pay bills, but they expect that number to grow as the city continues to market the program.
The author is the manager of Management Information Services for Newport Beach, Calif.