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Billing department asks for extra rep

January 11, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

With other departments including fire and police expected to make their requests during budget hearings in the next few months, administrators with the City of Hagerstown's billing department asked the Mayor and City Council Tuesday for an additional customer service representative to offset the ongoing cost of using temporary staffing.

Assistant Finance Director Ray Foltz said the acquisition of new technology, including online bill payment services, coupled with the residential housing boom and increased development, has increased the workload on the light department's billing customer service workers.

The department initially responded by rehiring a retired employee to work part time starting in July, and then by hiring temporary workers through Manpower, the temporary staffing firm. Foltz argued that, between training and other expenses with the department's temporary fix, hiring a full-time, unionized worker at $16,000 would save the city an estimated $5,500.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer questioned how the department has been able to increase its workload with the implementation of new technology that has led other entities to reduce their workload and the number of employees.

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"Those types of systems are put into place so you don't need as many employees," she said. "It's supposed to save us money."

Nelia M. Tidler, billing and customer service supervisor, said not all of those technological advances have been implemented yet, and she needs the additional worker to free up existing workers to implement the technology and eventually make the department more efficient.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner noted the department is self-sufficient, that its operating costs are covered by the revenue the city's light department brings in through customers' bills.

"This is not involved, and it doesn't involve, in general, any general fund revenue at all," he said. "It would be a minimal impact to the utility budget and a major impact to customer service."

City Council will formally vote on the measure at its Jan. 31 meeting, but Metzner, Aleshire and Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean said they are in favor of it, and with a majority of council in support, the city will begin advertising for the position before it is formally created.

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