By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen says he has been busy attempting to straighten out the former Waterworks Department — which will now become the Department of Utility Account Services. While he has been a major part of the changeover in that department, he said the new Director of Utility Account Services Crystal Weghorst is the one who will be charged with giving that department a new accountability.
“She’s going to be reviewing also the time frame that people have to submit their payments,” Allen said. “There has been a lot of complaints about poor customer service over there and that is one of the things she’s addressing. There’s just a lot of improvement that can be made over there and that’s what we’re going to be concentrating on and that’s the reason for basically restructuring it and putting someone over there that reports directly to me and has more accountability.”
Allen said there is a reason for changing the entire operation which recently went from quarterly to monthly billing.
“There’s some improvement that we think can be made in what used to be called the Waterworks office, and now is going to be the Utility Account Services,” Allen said. “We used to go through the Water Department, then to the City Manager, and previous to that it was to the mayor and now one person is going to be the department head over there and she will report directly to me and has been given the assignment of basically rebuilding that area from the ground up – reviewing all the rules – all the accounts, separating between what is considered to be a delinquent account and what is an uncollectible account.”
Allen was quick to add the problem has not been with the Waterworks director.
“This is not to say Sam Sutherland was doing a bad job,” Allen said. “But I need him to concentrate on getting the infrastructure up and an improved status in our water system and he needs to be freed up to do that not to be messing with the utility billing.”
Allen said that department had been collecting revenue for Wastewater and Trash. Now, it will be an independent department collecting some $11 million annually.
“Being over there I know there’s a lot of changes that need to happen that are going to happen,” Allen said.
Council also passed an ordinance amending the salary ordinance and making the director’s salary range be from $37,029 to $47,744 annually. At the same time the city will advertise to hire a new city engineer and adjust the salary for the position from $31,800 to $43,744 annually to the new rate of $43,755 to $53,557 annually.
First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson asked what the timeline is for the process of hiring a new city engineer.
“I’m going to advertise this week.” Allen said.
Allen said there will be a list of uncollectible accounts brought before City Council to have those accounts removed from the books.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.