By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen says customer service in the city’s waterworks department since the city went to monthly billing has been “very poor.”
“The conversion from quarterly billing to monthly billing was not as smooth as it should have been and the implementation of the change was delayed five months unnecessarily,” Allen said in correspondence to city council. “Since the conversion there have been other problems that should have been easily avoidable. Our customer service has been very poor and there have been questions ranging from billing to reporting. All of these areas must be improved and as we are currently structured I am not confident that we can successfully achieve these necessary improvements.”
On Monday night, Allen is expected to introduce possible future legislation that restructures the entire department and changes titles of management personnel.
“My recommendation is to change the supervisor of the waterworks office from an assistant director reporting to the water department into a director of a newly created department reporting directly to the city manager,” the report reads. “The name of the new department is the Department of Utility Account Services. By this department reporting directly to the city manager we can eliminate a layer of bureaucracy of the going through the Director of Public Utilities-Water.”
Currently, the office that deals with customer’s utility services and conducts the utility billing is referred to as the waterworks office and is headed by an individual with the job title of public utilities assistant director/office manager. There are two public utilities directors – one for water and one for wastewater. Allen said, in this instance the public utilities assistant director reports to the public utilities director-water. The public utilities director-water reports to the city manager.
At the last city council meeting, the Daily Times asked Allen if he, like the Times, had received complaints about perceived discrepancies in the new monthly billing procedure, and he responded that he had.
“The supervisor there (George Howard) is retiring in a month, and everything’s on hold until I get a new person in there to revamp and to review everything and then to confirm that everything is being done accurately,” Allen said.
In his legislation request Allen says – “The current employee in the position of Public Utilities Assistant Director/Office Manager is retiring at the end of July. It is my firm belief that this is the proper time to make the necessary changes that have to occur to move this area of our local government forward.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.