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48-hour water cut-off notices up 150%

Increased work, less staffing pose quandary for city

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48-hour water cut-off notices up 150%

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead listens to a department level strategy on how to save the city money during the City Council retreat Thursday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED January 12, 2009 12:08 a.m.
There were upwards of 400 Manteca households that were late enough with their municipal water, sewer, and garbage bills in 2006 that they received a 48-hour shut-off notice.
Typically between 150 and 200 of those municipal utility customers jammed the Department of Finance at the Civic Center over a two-day period to try and avoid having their water cut-off.
By late 2008, the number of 48-hour shut-of notices based on delinquent bills had ballooned to 1,000 a month out of 23,000 plus residential accounts. The end result is more than 500 residents try to beat the shut-of deadline over two days.
The increase in 48-hour shut-of notices is being attributed to “more and more people wanting to hold on to their cash as long as possible” due to pressing needs.
That surge in late utility shut-off prevention payments is just one example of how the Department of Finance is under pressure. They have kept four of 20 authorized positions empty to try and operate at 80 percent staffing to help Manteca bridge what is estimated to be a budget deficit of more than $11.3 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Half of that projected deficit could be wiped out by cuts already in place and money savings strategies that are now being explored according to City Manager Steve Pinkerton.
Finance Director Suzanne Mallory is proposing upgrading technology to improve efficiency and customer service to counter existing hiring freezes and a looming work furlough that could end up closing all city offices every other Friday starting in March.
One solution is to install a phone system with interactive voice recognition.
“Right now, our existing lines are so inundaunted that they just keep on ringing when we’re really busy,” Mallory said. “When customers do get through to someone, they are real frustrated.”
Mallory said a system would allow a caller to go through various prompts so they can pay their bill over the telephone and get verification without ever talking to a live person.
“A lot of people my age hate the phone systems and don’t use them but people in their 20s and 30s are use to paying their bills that way,” Mallory noted.
The City of Manteca is also exploring switching to time clocks that require the use of thumb prints to punch in and punch out. Currently, the 400 plus employees simply write their hours on time cards.
Police Chief Dave Bricker noted it takes one person in his department the better part of the day to tabulate the weekly time cards hours.
Administrative Services Director Joe Kriskovich noted manual errors that occur over the course of two or three months would pay for the system. Manual errors each year cost the city somewhere between $80,000 and $120,000.
Pinkerton noted that it also a safeguard against someone working on a weekend or a holiday and not reporting at the time they are supposed to by simply write in a different time.
The thumb print scanners for payroll also will reduce time across city departments for keeping track of payroll.
The system generates a report that can be accessed at any time by the payroll staff on or department managers who are supervising staff and overseeing staffing to control overtime.
The finance departments also exploring the use of laser checks to further reduce costs when paying warrants and payroll.
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