EVERETT — If you received a utility bill from the city of Everett this week, you might have noticed something missing.
A return envelope for your payment.
It wasn’t a mistake. They didn’t have any.
There’s a shortage due to a disruption in the envelope supply chain, another consequence of the pandemic’s impact on labor and materials. Tuesday marked the first utility billing to go out without a return envelope.
“While we are doing everything we can to obtain more envelopes, it is unknown how long the envelope supply shortage will last or continue to affect Everett,” Kevin Barnes, Everett utility services supervisor, said in a statement posted on the city web site. “We appreciate our customers’ patience and ask for their help dealing with this inconvenience.”
Everett isn’t the first local government entity to encounter this challenge.
It hit the Snohomish County Public Utility District in February when its envelope vendor reported it couldn’t deliver the regular March shipment and it would be April before the next batch could be sent.
Officials called other vendors. No luck. They searched Amazon but came up empty for what they needed. It seemed everyone lacked paper products.
There are multiple factors. Mills scaled back operations during the public health crisis. As they ramp back up, there’s been high demand — and high prices — for source material such as wood pulp, according to an analysis prepared for Printing Industries of New England.
John Haarlow, the PUD’s chief executive officer, even tried Costco — to no avail.
“Unfortunately, standard store-bought envelopes don’t work,” Haarlow said in a video posted on the utility district website.
In response, the PUD, and now the city, stepped up efforts to get customers to go paperless by paying online, in person or by phone.
The utility district uses a lot of envelopes. On average, it mails out 12,500 bills a day. In March, those didn’t include a return envelope.
Not everyone needs one. Of the PUD’s 354,625 customer accounts, 154,067 do not receive a paper bill. That total includes 13,000 customers who have gone paperless since the district made the public aware of the envelope shortage.
There will always be customers who want to mail in their payment. And while the shortage may ease in the short-term, the district anticipates its return.
“We are so aware that this could come back up at any time,” district media liaison Kellie Stickney said.
Everett has nearly 29,000 active customer accounts and mails about 1,400 utility bills a day. In March, more than half paid by mail, with about 29% paying electronically, according to city figures.
City staff foresaw the shortage’s impact in March. They penned a pitch to switch to paperless in the city’s April newsletter. There’s no incentive program, however.
“By using the service manually or signing up for recurring online bill pay, you avoid the need for a paper envelope, save yourself the postage and you’re helping the environment,” it reads.