CHIPLEY - Although the last day customer payments will be accepted at Gulf Power's Chipley office is quickly approaching, the company says the building, located at 1195 E Jackson Avenue, will not stand empty.

The Chipley office will continue to be an operations center, as well as a community and economic development support location.

"A local manager focused on economic and business development in Chipley, Bonifay, Graceville and surrounding areas will continue to work from Chipley, and construction, restoration and service crews will continue to work from this location," explained Gulf Power spokesperson Rick DelaHaya.

Gulf Power recently launched a plan called Service to Fit Your Life, an effort intended to make paying the power bill easier. With that announcement came news that payments will no longer be accepted in local offices after Dec. 29.

DelaHaya says the decision came after the company observed customers overwhelmingly prefer paying online, by mobile phone and at alternative payment locations.

"As many companies do, Gulf Power evaluates its business model on a continual basis, thinking forward into the future to improve service to customers and reduce expenses," said DelaHaya. "We’ve been working hard over the last several years to create a foundation of multiple convenient ways to make bill payments that gives our customers more options to make their lives easier. Down nearly 30 percent compared to this time last year, currently only 10 percent of our customer payments come through our payment offices. The majority of customers use other convenient ways to pay their bill including auto pay, paying online, by phone or at an authorized payment location near their home or workplace. These options have worked so well that in an effort to put our resources where our customers want them most, on Dec. 29 will be the last day bill payments will be accepted in local offices."

Chipley is part of the company's Panama City district.

As a result of restructuring at Gulf Power - which is companywide and not exclusive to the area - about nine employees in the Panama City district are expected to transition out of the company.

"The way our customers use energy is changing, and we must always be looking for ways to improve and adapt to current trends and changing customer expectations," said DelaHaya. "We are in a process of evaluation and assessment to build an organizational structure that will better position us for the future."

"Any changes or reorganizations will help Gulf Power position the business for growth and meet customers' changing needs while delivering services and products that make their lives easier and better," he added. "We are working very hard to minimize the impact to our team members in all locations, nonetheless, it’s never easy making these tough decisions."

Gulf Power also closed its Bonifay office in the early 1990s as a result of company-wide efficiency improvements, but DelaHaya stresses fewer brick and mortar locations does not mean a reduction of service.

"What is not changing is the mission of Gulf Power here in Northwest Florida," he said. "We are proud to be a part of the community we serve. As we look to the future, we will continue to focus on serving our communities with much more than energy alone — leading in improving our environment, in growing our regional economy, and in serving our local communities to bring prosperity to all."