Laurinburg: Less Time to Pay Lightbill

Laurinburg City Manager Ed Burchins is just two months into his new job, but he’s already making some changes in city government.
In a recent meeting, Burchins told city council members about the consolidation of several city departments.
"We have completed the reorganization of the street, beautification and cemetery departments. They all have been merged under Stacey."
"We are making some space at Public Works to move the beautification department down there. Cemetery is going to go out to the cemetery so the cemetery director will be out at the cemetery.
"We are already finding efficiencies and ways of doing things better."
Councilman Curtis Leak asked if workers would be shared by departments.
"I’ve authorized him to use those men however he wants," Burchins said. "There is no more beautification department. There is a street department."
Councilman Herbert Rainer questioned the move as the director positions for the cemetery and beautification departments weren’t eliminated in the consolidation. Rainer said this means the consolidation keeps the same labor costs.
"I think this move is going to allow the labor to do a much better job and much more work than they would be able to do separately," Burchins said. "By consolidating them into one department, I think you get greater efficiencies."
Stacey McQuage, director of the streets department, gave an example of the different groups working together.
"The other day, they had a tombstone with names on one side and Tommy thought that there was no one buried in front. We took our ground penetrating radar unit that we use on water lines and we run across them and there was no casket there. We went behind it where the tombstone had no names and there were caskets back there."
"So they were turned around?" asked Rainer.
"Right, and that was just using the water department’s ground penetrating radar to find it," McQuage said. "They are finding out that there are a lot more resources now."
The city manager says he’s also eyeing changes to the billing system to improve customer service.
"We’ve had some situations come up during the last couple of months where we have made mistakes in the way we have billed people and we have the ability to go back several years and identify the mistake and how much the mistake has cost our customers," Burchins said. "The ordinance only allows us to go back a year. This is just one example of something I have seen. Likewise, if they make a mistake, we only have the propensity to go back a year."
"I have a problem if we make a mistake that is on us that if we have the information and the data to go back and track it back to a certain point in time just to say that we only go back a year. I don’t think that is a great customer service policy to have."
"We want to go back and revamp the policy and bring it back for [council’s] consideration."
Burchins said the city keeps billing and collection information for three to five years before destroying it. His plan is to change the ordinance to allow the corrections to past mistakes for as long as the city has a record of the transaction.
Another thing the city manager wants to do is reevaluate the automated meter reader system.
In a study to be performed on the city’s broadband, Burchins is asking a company to look at the meter readers.
"One of the other things that I’ve asked them to take a look at is the automated meter reading system because one of the arguments that Datamatic has made is that our wireless is causing difficulty in their system being able to operate."
He said Datamatic has told him their system works well and the interference from the wireless is the likely culprit in difficulties with automated meter readings.
"I don’t think that is the case, but I would like an expert to come in and say that. "
Burchins also wants to improve the way money is collected for electric bills.
He told council members that the days sales in receivables – the length of time from the initial power use to when it is paid in full – is the highest of all the participants in North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency at 90.9.
The next highest is Red Springs at 65.8 and the average for NCEMPA is 42 days.
Burchins says that, until a customer pays their electric bill, the power they used is provided by the city’s coffers.
With a 90.9 days sales in receivables, Burchins said there is about $3.6 million owed to the city. By reducing the length of time before people pay for their power to Red Springs 65.8 days, it would reduce the money owed to the city to about 2.6 million, making it the equivalent of a one-time revenue to the city of $1 million.
The manager said if council decides to pursue this, the city would have to take an incremental approach to make sure the end-user is affected as little as possible.

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About George Fisher

George is a freelance writer, an author and a Democratic political consultant. He has worked as Deputy Communications Director for a Senatorial campaign and Campaign Manager for several NC House races and one congressional race. He previously worked as a news producer for a local television station.
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