DOVER — Kirby Hudson says that employees in the City of Dover’s Customer Service Department often find themselves stuck in no-win situations.
For that reason, Mr. Hudson, Dover’s assistant city manager, was determined to fight for what he calls a “beleaguered” and “understaffed” department.
So, he convinced members of the city council to add five full-time positions to the agency at City Hall.
Council on Monday voted 5-3 to add the new positions, which is estimated to increase the city’s budget by $97,500 for the remainder of fiscal year 2017.
The measure will increase the total head count of the Customer Service department to 24 staffers.
“I am absolutely excited that city council approved of the staffing increase,” Mr. Hudson said. “When I came on board to work for the city many of the people I spoke to said they felt the Customer Services department was one that was very challenged and that they are constantly under the gun.
“To the average person that comes into the department, they’re paying [the city of Dover] money, so that doesn’t make for the happiest people in the world coming in … some have had their power cut from not paying a bill and there is just a whole menu of things that people, when they come in, aren’t feeling very happy.”
Mr. Hudson said lines are sometimes 15 customers deep and phones that routinely go unanswered have only added to the misery at the Customer Services department at 5 East Reed Street.
The Customer Service department is responsible for supervising and coordinating the administration of major financial services, receivables and customer service for the city, including preparing more than 23,000 monthly utility bills, miscellaneous and special assessment bills.
Now, the department will have the ability to add five full-time employees, an increase that will be partially offset by the reduction of its part-time employees from four to two.
A pair of employees will be added to Customer Service and one each will be added to Billing and Collection, Cashiers and Meter Reading.
The annualized cost for the staffing increase is estimated to be around $195,000 in FY-2017 dollars.
“If you take the FY-2018 cost of that same thing, you’re probably looking at a three- to five-percent increase because there will be a step increase that’s under contract and there may be some adjustments related to medical insurance because we’re not sure of the cost at the point,” City Manager Scott Koenig said.
“The FY-2018 cost of the proposal is probably going in the neighborhood of $205,000 if it is fully staffed all year from day one — from July 1 of 2017 until June 30, 2018.”
Mr. Hudson said the city plans on covering the immediate budget increase through a budget amendment from the anticipated carry forward balances as follows: Electric Fund (60,937.50), Water/WW Fund ($19,597.50) and General Fund ($16,965).
“As [Mr. Hudson] indicated [he] can assure me and this council that it will not affect the budget and there is funding in the budget and we won’t have to raise taxes because of this, I therefore can support it,” said City Councilman Brian Lewis. “I thank [Mr. Hudson] for your initiative.”
The Customer Service department, which currently has six vacancies — not including the new positions — will more than likely continue to struggle until the new employees and hired, trained and become proficient at their jobs. That could take up to a year, Mr. Hudson said.
Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said it was imperative to add the new positions.
“As a business owner I know the importance of good customer service,” he said. “If we do not have good customer service then our business model will depreciate and pockets will be affected.
“We have our first priority to our constituents and if your constituents say that this is not working, then we have to rectify that problem.”
Still, for Mr. Hudson, getting the staffing increase didn’t come without a fight.
Councilmen James Hosfelt Jr., William Hare and Scott Cole voted against the proposal.
Mr. Hosfelt said he didn’t believe that since around 1 percent of Dover’s population was dissatisfied with the performance of the department that it warranted the addition of five positions.
He also worried about it becoming a burden on future city budgets.
Mr. Hare also didn’t believe such an increase was necessary.
“This office has not been fully staffed for two years. Why?,” he said of the Customer Service department. “I’ve been in there and I’ve seen lines and I’ve been in there when there haven’t been any lines. I’ve been in there when there have been lines and [employees] sitting in there in their offices.
“Maybe there are some complaints … I just feel like if we were fully staffed for the last two years and we’re having these issues — OK. I’d just like to see what it would be like if we were fully staffed. I can’t support hiring another five full-time positions.”
City Councilman James Hutchison Sr. said he has witnessed Mr. Hudson going to the Customer Services Department for the past year and has talked to him frequently about it.
That, he said, is why he voted for the staff increase.
“I can assure you, based on my personal experience and listening to [Mr. Hudson] himself talking about what he sees every day, and the frustrations that are taking place in the workplace … quite frankly, I don’t think we have a choice,” Mr. Hutchison said. “I think we have to step up to the plate and address this issue.”
The city eventually did, making Mr. Hudson extremely happy in the process.
“The added positions should really help,” he said. “I just want to see Dover’s Customer Service department be the best that it can be.”
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.