The Times West Virginian

July 7, 2013

State Treasury’s ‘e-government’ system shows steady increase

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The State Treasury’s “e-government” system, which keeps experiencing growth each year, is helping citizens and entities do business with the state of West Virginia in an easy, quick way.

Lella Miller, director of treasury operations for West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue’s office, explained that e-government allows state agencies and other entities to accept payments over the Internet through their websites.

For fiscal year 2013, $330 million was processed through this system, which was again a record number. The dollar amount for the 2012 fiscal year was $319 million.

“Every year, we go up at least 10 percent on volume and dollars, so it’s been a steady increase from the day we rolled it out, and we keep expecting it to go up,” she said.

Perdue’s concerns about the security of credit card information among state agencies led to the creation of this program around 2000. He decided that his office would build the Internet gateway to the banking industry to clear the credit cards, Miller said.

All state agencies are required to go through this system, so they no longer have to worry about the credit card transactions, she said. The program expanded from state agencies to also include higher education and local governments.

“In the very beginning, probably the biggest push was from the schools, the higher education,” Miller said.

The first subject to go online with the e-government program back in 2000 was Marshall University, which worked very closely with the State Treasury to set the whole system up, she said. Then schools like West Virginia University, Fairmont State University and Shepherd University were among the next to step up and move forward with this program.

From the time WVU adopted e-government, it has repeatedly had the highest dollar amount and volume of online payments through the system, Miller said. WVU continues to expand this service and had $113.9 million in e-government transactions in fiscal year 2013.

“They’ve been a great supporter of the system, and I think it’s worked well for them,” she said. “We’ve had a pretty good relationship with WVU.”

Last year, Fairmont State took in $9.2 million through the system, accounting for 3 percent of the state’s e-government activity, Miller said.

“Fairmont’s been very good to work with, too,” she said.

Christa Kwiatkowski, assistant director of accounting at Fairmont State University, said the school is in its ninth year using the e-government system. In the last couple of years, the university has expanded the system to include several different usages.

Tuition and fees, housing and ticket sales through the School of Fine Arts are all automated through the system. In addition, Fairmont State has a general processing system where any institution within the university can take payments via credit car or electronic check for events they are holding.

“Our usage continues to grow,” Kwiatkowski said.

Previously, students could either mail Fairmont State a check or come in person to pay by credit card, cash or check. Now, those transactions can be done at home over the internet, she said.

The e-government system has been an integral piece in making processes easier for students, who can register and pay their bill online and then just show up for classes.

“The State Treasurer’s Office has been wonderful in helping us move forward for the electronic needs of the institution,” Kwiatkowski said.

Last year, the State Treasury was able to write an interface along with the West Virginia Network, known as WVNET, into the higher education banner system, so students registering for classes through their accounts can make payments directly through the system. This enabled smaller schools like Glenville State College, Concord University and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College to come on board with e-government, Miller said.

“I think that the young people are just expecting everything to be payable online, and they expect to be able to pay with their credit cards and not write checks,” she said. “(E-government is) pushed by the users demanding it, and then also it’s a great efficiency for the agencies and the schools. Everything is in a file instead of on paper.”

Miller said entities using the system can download all the information instead of having to go through hundreds if not thousands of pieces of paper.

“We’ve tried to roll it out with as little cost as possible,” she said.

Occasionally, the Treasury has to bill a cost back to the agencies, but the main expense to entities is the merchant fee to accept credit cards. That’s the bank’s fee, Miller said.

In addition to state agencies and schools, cities or towns and public service districts can also access payments over the Internet and don’t have to be concerned about security, she said. The program specifically for these types of entities is called “L-gov.”

In order to use the system, local governments need to have an account with the West Virginia Board of Treasury Investments.

Miller said those entities deposit their money straight into their government money market account, and they have the freedom to do whatever they want with their funds. This encourages local governments to use their investment accounts and also allows them to have a website presence without spending a lot of money setting it up.

The Treasurer’s Office tries to make contact with these types of local entities at conferences in order to expand the program with them, she said.

A press release reported that the State Treasury handled $2.4 million worth of payments to municipalities and other entities in the state in fiscal year 2013.

That included $747,000 – or 4,700 utility payments – by people living in Fairmont. Also, Fairmont business and occupational taxes processed electronically by the State Treasury totaled $79,000.

“The City of Fairmont has been a great partner in this,” Miller said.

The city’s website has several options to pay bills and traffic tickets, which are all tied into the e-government system, she said.

Fairmont has been using the system since around 2008 or 2009, said Eileen Layman, the city’s finance director. The City of Fairmont moved to e-government in an effort to offer customers online payments with credit cards, and the system provided the infrastructure for that service

Customer go to the city’s website, www.fairmontwv.gov, and click on the “Pay” tab under “I Want To” in order to take care of utilities, B&O taxes, business licenses, parking meter citations, street maintenance charges and other fees.

People seamlessly leave the city’s website and are transferred to the state’s website to process their credit card payment. The city retrieves a file from the state every day, Layman said.

She said the utility account has a high volume of payments, with the city processing up to 50 payments of $150 to $200 each day.

“We wanted a way to offer our customers online payments, and several of our customers use it,” Layman said. “It’s an added service for the customer.”

Mark Moore, utility controller for the city, said Fairmont has seen consistent growth over the last few years in customers using the system to pay their water utilities and other fees. People can still get their bills to the city relatively quickly without having to leave their home.

“In our case, from a standpoint of speed, next to them coming to our window (or using the drop box), it is the fastest way for a customer to get money in our hands,” he said. “I think that is the most beneficial to the customer.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.