Residents will have just over a year to opt-in to e-billing before they start to see a small charge appear on their utility bills.
On Tuesday, city councillors agreed in a 6-1 vote to move to paperless billing for all accounts as of July 1, 2019. In January, utility customers will start receiving notices of the change.
The city cannot automatically transfer residents over to receive utility bills through email, and instead residents must opt-in. That means any resident who has not opted-in by July 1, 2019, will continue to receive mailed bills but will pay a cost-recovery fee for the service.
Mayor Cathy Heron initially put forward a motion to have paperless billing for new customers only. However, on Tuesday she brought forward a motion for all customers.
That alternative motion had been proposed by city staff in a background report, which noted some limitations with her original motion – namely, that running two separate programs would be inefficient, could require extra resources and could be viewed as unfair to new customers.
Heron said that reasoning made sense to her.
The city currently spends about $113,000 a year on paper utility bills, which are sent out every two months. However, council also decided on Tuesday to move to monthly billing, which will double the city's billing costs.
The push at council for monthly billing came from the roll-out of the city's new smart water meters. One goal of those meters is water conservation, as it gives residents better ability to track their water usage.
"$100,000 per year, approximately, we would save the city, and over the lifespan of those water meters, that would be in the millions of dollars ... To me, that's significant," Heron said.
Aside from saving the city money, e-billing is also considered to be better for the environment as it decreases paper waste.
Currently, only 18 per cent of customers use e-billing.
If the city brought in a fee of $1.02 per paper bill, they would break even on the cost of paper billing. That's lower than the industry average of $2 for paper bills.
The motion received support from all councillors except for Coun. Sheena Hughes. While other councillors expressed concern about bringing in a new charge that could affect seniors or people struggling to make ends meet, that was a sticking point for Hughes who said the city still has many residents who do not use email.
She said while she has no problem with encouraging people to move to paperless billing, she does not support charging them if they don't.
"I think that giving people a choice and not necessarily penalizing them ... needs to be respected," she said.
Coun. Natalie Joly said she does not like the idea of charging a senior an extra $12 per year, but felt the move toward paperless billing could help "nudge" residents toward e-billing.
"If this is that little incentive people need to make the time to do the right thing, and save those pieces of paper, then that's what we should do," she said.