City hall staff swamped with water billing complaints ( from May 2012)

By  | October 2, 2014 | 1 Comment | Filed under: Cambridge Water Billing Issues
May 31, 2012

Cambridge Times

It was more than a year ago that City of Cambridge took over municipal water billing from Cambridge & North Dumfries Hydro. Since then, city staff have been swamped in a sea of complaints as they tread through a  new billing system.

Monday night, council threw staff a lifesaver to help provide customers with better service.

In a 6-3 vote, council doubled the size of the caller-swamped customer service department within the city tax and water division.

In a report from Jonathon Lautenbach, city director of financial services, customer service lines are receiving three times as many calls as any other city department. In the four-month period between January and April, customer service received 13,050 calls, which translates to 160 calls a day. That resulted in wait times of about three minutes. Staff currently can only handle 85 per cent of the calls received. Fifteen per cent of calls are dropped.

On a daily basis, the department receives about 30 emails and walk-in traffic ranging from 50 to100 people.

Councillors Rick Cowsill, Ben Tucci and Nicholas Ermeta opposed the additional hirings to deal with the overwhelming increase in calls.

“There is something wrong with the system when you continue to add staff,” Cowsill said, noting that current staff are working under a lot of pressure. “I honestly don’t see how this is going to alleviate anything. We are in a predicament here. We have to go back and look at the policy.”

 The volume of phone inquiries has meant that more city staff have been temporarily assigned to minimize wait times, but an additional two part-time people are needed. The added cost is estimated at $52,000 and will come from the water billing contingency fund in the 2012 budget.

Meanwhile, staff also requested the hiring of a customer service supervisor to manage the growing pool of service representatives and to provide ongoing training and support. That position would cost $83,000 in salary and benefits,with the bulk paid from the interest on overdue accounts.

“A policy change might reduce the number of complaints,” said Ermeta.

“I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so,” said Tucci. “A year ago we were told no extra staff would be needed and here we are.”

In December 2010, council approved $174,200 to cover the changeover as the city took on billing for water services. Funding was needed to hire two more staff to send out and collect approximately 250,000 water bills. About $50,000 of that funding was earmarked for computer software upgrades.

Both Cowsill and Tucci had questioned the cost of the switch. Tucci even challenged the initial hiring, wondering if the workload couldn’t be spread over the existing staff.  Staff explained that wasn’t possible.

“Having more people isn’t getting at the fundamental problem,” Tucci said.

He also objected to the new supervisory position being paid for through the interest on overdue accounts.

“It disrespects people whose accounts are in arrears,” he said.

Coun. Pam Wolf wondered if the city shouldn’t be taking a more relaxed approach with water billing given the tough economy.

Chief administrative officer Jim King said staff have studied and tried to improve customer service over the last year.

“It’s not perfect, but we’ve made great strides,” he said. “We are trying to be proactive, not reactive.”

King said Cambridge and North Dumfries Hydro used to write off $2 million in bad bills a year and the city isn’t doing that.

Mayor Doug Craig said the efforts being made are an attempt to improve customer service and reduce the number of dropped calls within the existing budget.

“It’s funny, we are always being told we should act more like a business, but when we do, we are told people don’t want us to act like a business,” he said.



One Response to City hall staff swamped with water billing complaints ( from May 2012)

    Ron B. October 3, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    The mayor and council all must go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *