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Sat, Oct. 19

UniSource to no longer take payments in person
Energy company set to close lobby to customers Oct. 1

JAMES CHILTON/Miner
A handful of customers file out of the UniSource Energy Services lobby payment center at 2498 Airway Ave. Tuesday afternoon. The office will stop accepting in-person payments starting Oct. 1.
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JAMES CHILTON/Miner A handful of customers file out of the UniSource Energy Services lobby payment center at 2498 Airway Ave. Tuesday afternoon. The office will stop accepting in-person payments starting Oct. 1. <b><a href="Formlayout.asp?formcall=userform&form=20"target="_blank">Click here to purchase this image as a print or photo gift</a></b>

KINGMAN - The UniSource Energy Services office at 2489 Airway Ave. will stop accepting customers' in-person gas and electric payments beginning Oct. 1.

Following the end of this month, all UniSource customers who wish to pay their bills in person will be required to go to the local Wal-Mart store at 3396 Stockton Hill Road. Customers are being informed of the change of billing venue in this month's statements.

According to UniSource spokesman Joe Salkowski, while the office on Airway will continue to house various engineering and other service employees, both Kingman and Lake Havasu City's payment lobbies are being closed due to increasing concerns over employee safety.

"We handle a fair amount of cash in our offices, and our facilities are not really designed to provide the appropriate security, at least not the security we would like to have if we're going to continue accepting payments," Salkowski said. "We just recently provided the Wal-Mart cash payment option. That's a new - and we think more convenient - option for customers who prefer to pay their bill in cash." Paying your electric bill in cash at Wal-Mart does have its downside, namely the 88-cent service fee Wal-Mart charges. From now on, however, Salkowski said Wal-Mart should be the preferred payment location for anyone who needs to make an emergency payment, especially if service is disconnected.

"When you make a payment at Wal-Mart, you receive a receipt that contains a confirmation code that can be used to confirm your payment with UniSource Energy Services (over the phone)," he said. "Based upon that, if a disconnection had been scheduled, we can cancel it."

Salkowski noted that this isn't the first time UniSource has directed its cash-paying customers to seek other payment options. He maintained that the amount of lobby payments being made at the Airway office and elsewhere in the state simply have not justified the cost of making the security upgrades necessary to continue taking them.

In September 2006, UniSource closed similar payment locations at its offices in Prescott, Show Low, Cottonwood and Flagstaff; and with the additional closures in Kingman and Lake Havasu, Nogales will remain the only UniSource office still accepting cash payments after this month.

"Customers in those communities successfully migrated to other bill payment options and we've not received any complaints of late in those areas, I think, because they've learned to make payments over the phone, through mail, or now, at Wal-Mart," Salkowski said. "We're really looking to provide our customers with the most effective and efficient bill payment options possible, and lobby payments don't qualify."

Salkowski said Nogales was unusual in that several elected officials from the city actually contacted UniSource and requested it keep its lobby payment office open, since large numbers of Nogales residents rely on cash for transactions. Everywhere else, he said, cash represents only a small minority of customer payments.

Aside from the switch to Wal-Mart, Salkowski said customers can still pay their bills through all the other existing non-cash channels.

"There is no fee to pay by mail - you just have to pay for stamps," he said. "There is no fee to pay through our e-bill service, which is an online link to your checking account. We also have automatic payment withdrawals through a program we call the Sure No-hassle Automatic Payment plan."

Salkowski added that UniSource will continue to maintain its two payment drop boxes at the Airway office and in the Kingman City Hall parking lot at 310 N. Fourth St. Those payments must be either check or money order, however. Customers can also make payments over the phone or online with credit cards, but Salkowski said such payments include a $3.95 fee for every $200 paid.

The news came as an unexpected surprise to several UniSource customers making payments at the Airway office Tuesday afternoon. One customer, Mary Smith, said she typically makes her bill payments with checks but has always preferred to do it in person.

"I don't like it personally," she said of the lobby closure. "I wish they'd keep it open because it makes it easier."

Another customer, Miranda Smith (no relation), agreed that the news had come as a shock, but she took it more in stride. "It's not that big of a deal. Now I just have to pay it by mail," she said.

"It'll actually probably save me some money on gas."

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