March 21, 2022, is the date that the City of Lawton first launched the new updated utility/water bill online payment system to much ire. Put simply, Lawton chose to swap an online bill pay system that worked for one that didn't work. Ten months later, it's still broken.

Comments on social media show the tired frustrations of citizens just trying to easily pay their bills online.

Some users complain they are forced to sign up for a new account every month. Other users say the Lawton site works for them, but the payment site doesn't even recognize their account numbers or information. Complaints continue that users will be prompted their email is already in use, but when using the forgotten password tool, the site suddenly won't recognize the email address it said was already in use.

While initially, when the city announced this move to the new system, they tried to manage expectations by explaining that there would be a few expected issues for most users. With any new system, users would have to sign up again for their same account, but the growing pains have become habitual and unending.

"This is unacceptable."

We first talked about the ongoing problems with the utility bill pay system back in August when five months was considered unacceptable to still not have a properly working system.

In Facebook comments, people were astounded that local politicians so willingly opted to abandon a working and reliable outsourced third-party process for online bill pay. Prior to the change, Tyler Portico was the single website used to pay your water bill online at a minimal added cost to Lawton citizens, 75¢ per bill paid.

Now Lawtonians must log in to the City of Lawton website to view their bills and use a different website to manage their payment options. The dual-website system is what seems to be causing so many problems for users.

Since we're ten months into the new billing system with the same ongoing problems that the city said were fixed back in August, I reached out for an update from the city.

Lawton Finance Director Joe Don Dunham offered this:

As with any installation of new programs, things don’t always run as smoothly as we would hope. In this instance, the double log-in system for utility bill payment has complicated the process and is somewhat confusing.  The City is currently evaluating methods to eliminate the double log-in protocol and still provide the level of data security the citizens desire.

The Utility Services staff is committed to helping the customers navigate through this process on a one-on-one basis and have also developed how-to videos which are located on the City’s website which can assist citizens through the online utility bill pay process. As always staff appreciates any feedback and would encourage the customers to complete the customer service survey which is located on the City’s website.

The City of Lawton Utilities Services staff uses the comments which are made on this form as a way to develop training for continuous improvement.

Turn the two into one.

It's a common saying that remains so true. The first step in solving a problem is realizing there is one. The City of Lawton or at least Finance Director Dunham in his on-record comment recognizes how the dual-site login process is causing the ongoing problem that so many Lawtonians are growing increasingly impatient with.

Could the remedy to this issue really be as simple as combining the two-login process into a single login method?

I reached out to Lawton's I.T. Director Judy Franco about the perceived multiple login fix to simplify and correct the process, but like most things tech-forward, the simple answer isn't always the possible one.

Judy replied:

They are two independent systems that cannot use one authentication source, thus requiring two logins. The first is to track the customer’s accounts and bills. The second is strictly a payment method that provides a second authentication for the customer’s banking information as it is part of a system maintained by a financial institution.

Back to the drawing board...

The contradicting responses don't inspire confidence that the new utility bill pay system will be corrected by the time the calendar year of this project rolls around in March... but not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I look forward to having easy content to update by then.

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