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How a Small Georgia Town Made Most Payments Mobile

Grovetown, located near Augusta, has found quick success with digital civic payments after launching a Tyler Technologies app. What lessons does that provide for other cities, and what comes next?

Payment Solutions
Old habits are hard to break, according to one of the most cliched of all cliches. But a small town in Georgia shows that digital payments to governments can catch on relatively quickly given the right push from officials.

Grovetown, which is part of the Augusta metro area in eastern Georgia, has just more than 17,000 residents, according to the latest U.S. Census estimate. Residents range from aging lifers to Army troops working at nearby Fort Gordon.

In November, Grovetown launched the My Civic mobile app from Tyler Technologies, part of a push to bring the local government further into the digital age.

By early September the app had been downloaded at least 421 times — that’s roughly 10 percent of all the households in Grovetown.

Now, 70 percent of payments to the city are made online — either through the app or the city’s website — up from 30 percent before the app’s launch.

Education and outreach are vital to that ongoing growth, Jordan Johnson, the city’s public information officer, webmaster and help desk operator, told Government Technology.

The city promoted the app via print and digital media, and made sure to proactively answer questions from residents about its use. That included flyers in the lobby of city hall and “hits” on social media every couple of weeks to promote digital services, he said.

Personal attention also has proven vital.

“We have a lot of older folks in the community who are just now hopping on the Facebook train for better or worse, and we are taking a hands-on approach, and working one on one with folks,” he said.

To be sure, the app offers more than digital civic payments.

Residents can use the tool to “more directly reach the department they want to reach,” Johnson said, and as a channel to report community issues such as broken streetlights. In such an instance, a resident can take a picture of the streetlight at dusk and send it to the city via the technology.

My Civic also serves as the city’s in-house IT ticketing system, with more than 450 issues resolved since the November launch, most within 24 hours, he said. The city has a staff of about 130, including its own police department.

The app can be crafted with local culture in mind. In Delray Beach, Fla., for instance, the city uses the tool to update beach conditions along with offering access to city meetings.

Payments, though, is among the most noticeable drivers of mobile citizen engagement technology, and probably one of the most important, given the importance of utility bills, parking fees, fines and other types of revenue.

Payment processing is helping to cement gov tech deals, for instance, as more residents and agencies go mobile — mirroring trends in the e-commerce space — and sparking municipal experimentation. New York City is testing app-only parking payments for some areas, an example of how payment trends are developing.

That said, cash and checks still command a significant presence in bill payments, and officials eager to go even more mobile must still contend with those relatively old-fashioned ways of settling accounts.

A May study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that while the pandemic encouraged growth in all forms of online payments, cash and checks each still account for 16 percent of all bill payments for households that make less than $25,000 annually. Grovetown has a median household income more than double that, but at least 22 million households fall below the threshold, according to one estimate.

“This highlights that the access and use of the full suite of payment choices is not always available to all members of the U.S. population,” the report stated.

In Grovetown, Johnson is confident that more education and promotion — and word of mouth from My Civic users — will bring even more use of the app.

“It doesn’t have to be a super-convoluted process,” he said about deploying such technology in a smaller town. “It can be simple and used in a very common-sense way.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.