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Posted February 6, 2012 | comments 13 Comments

Options for hours explored

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Town officials are still looking for ways to extend hours for the town's utility office.

The office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which poses a problem for some residents, according to Mayor Timothy Darr.

"Sixty percent of our community works out of town," Darr said. Residents have complained to him, saying that by the time they get home from work, the office is closed and they can't pay their bills.

During Monday night's work session, Darr asked Town Manager Steve Burke and Director of Finance Kim Gilkey-Breeden to meet and try to find a solution.

Gilkey-Breeden said the office closes at 4:30 p.m. to give staff enough time to balance out the day's work without accumulating overtime.

"We had a budget crunch a few years ago, and closing at 4:30 was the solution," she said. The office also used to be open on Saturdays "years and years ago," which may be an option to revisit, she said.

Another possibility is staggering shifts among staff so the office can remain open longer, but Gilkey-Breeden is wary about that approach.

"When you stagger your work force, you make [it] weak and inefficient," she said. When fewer employees are in the office, she said, it takes longer to process work and help customers.

Gilkey-Breeden said she was unaware that people were concerned about the hours of operation. The office is staffed to operate under the current hours, and if shifts are moved around "it's going to affect customer service," she said.

However, she said she'll approach the issue with "an open mind."

Burke is hoping to gather information from surrounding municipalities, banks and other private institutions, and see how they operate, he said.

"We're trying to work with the existing staffing, so there'll a minimum impact to the town's budget," he said.

Aware that Front Royal is a commuter community, Burke wants to arrive at a solution to "meet customer needs."

13 Comments | Leave a comment

    I'm not sure I understand the problem. Receipts are almost outdated as a need and there is a 24 hour a day option, by placing your payment and stub in an envelope and using the 24 hour drop drawer provided on the front of the building. I have used this almost every month to pay, since I get off work at 1 in the morning. I have not found I need face to face with the finance office.

    I can't believe that many folks would have to have a live person when almost every other aspect of our lives has gone auto-pay, including most banks.

    Just my opinion. Don't make your life harder than it already is...utilize the drop box. Its there for you.

    Quote: Another possibility is staggering shifts among staff so the office can remain open longer, but Gilkey-Breeden is wary about that approach.

    "When you stagger your work force, you make [it] weak and inefficient," she said. When fewer employees are in the office, she said, it takes longer to process work and help customers."

    Again I ask, why is it not possible to have one or two employees start their work day later, to accommodate the commuters that bring their [tax] dollars back to Front Royal? Implementing a fixed late shift that rotates to each employee one week a month, is not going to make the work force weak and inefficient. That issue has to already exist, and is an employee performance management issue, not an hours of operation issue.

    Many employers utilize rotating fixed shifts as necessary to meet customer's needs, and still maintain HR hiring limits. A two hour shift change for one or two employees should have very low impact on the office.

    As expected, Ms. Gilkey-Breeden's response reflects business as usual in Front Royal, many excuses and little acceptance of change to improve service to the customer.

    Nevertheless, I applaud Mayor Darr in working towards a solution to this issue.

    Here are some options that didn't make it in this article. Because I find it hard to believe that the Town Manager, Mayor Timothy Darr, the Councilmen Present or Kim Gilkey-Breeden would would have disregarded these options already available to the public. And if they didn't mention these options then why not? And I am also wondering if the Mayor suggested any of these options to the residents who complained to him. I too experience the same questions and I immediately offered these suggestions. And you would be surprised at how many of them never thought of the following options.

    Option One: The Night Drop Box right outside the business office. My Wife and I have been using it for years. Never had a payment lost yet!

    Option Two: By a 45 cent stamp and mail it in.

    Option Three: Pay over the phone (if you don’t mind paying a small fee.)

    Option Four: Most Banks offer Free bill pay. Some people here in Front Royal use that option. And it doesn’t cast the customer anything. It even saves the gas and wear and tear on the vehicle traveling back forth to pay the bill for it can be done over the internet.

    Option Five: Wait until the online pay feature is finally set up on the Town’s Website.

    Why is it that when we encounter a problem we automatically go to the “Throw Money at it” route? Every penny we can save is a good thing. Every penny of the tax payers dollars we can avoid spending is a good thing. With the options available right now: (one through 4) and five hopefully coming soon the “throw Money at it” Route should be put on the back burner and the burner turned off!

      I would think as a possible candidate for Mayor you would be aware there is more things done at the finance office other than paying your bill. I think the taxpayers deserve the option of being able to walk into the finance office and conduct their business if that is what they want. I also find your option plan quite belittling to the citizens and taxpayers of this community.We are all aware of the options you pointed out. I must have read a different article than you because I never saw "throw money at it" as one of the solutions to making the finance office more convenient for the citizens of the Town of Front Royal.

        The simple fact that none of the options that I listed were made available in the Article and the fact that the Director of the Finance Department thought it important enough to point out that she was concerned about accumlating overtime leads us to believe that the option on the table was and is indeed a "Throw Money at it" problem. I happen to not agree that we should immediately go to that option. And given the number of times Budget, overtime, was brought up it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the option on the table was to throw money at it. The Director of Finance was doing her job by expressing her concern of costing the taxpayers additional money. And I believe the primary concern that Mayor Timothy Darr brought up was indeed the fact that by the time Residents got home they could not go and pay their bills. Emphasis on the word pay

        And the options that I laid out were not put up there to belittle the very hard working taxpayers of Front Royal (whom I happen to be a member of). They were put out there as a question. That question being Why were they not put out there? In fact I clearly make it a point to mention that those options did not make it in this article. As a Candidate for Mayor it should be noted that my primary focus is saving tax dollars. Being accountable to the tax dollars we spend and at the same time providing the Tax Paying Citizens of Front Royal with the services they need, is why I am running for Mayor. Now I may be wrong. And leaving the finance office open longer or on Saturday may be the solution to the problem. All I am saying is this. Make the options listed above known see if it takes care of the problem. If not then we can revisit the other option. But don't automatically throw money at it.

          If your primary focus is saving tax dollars, then the answer is as drastic as it is simplistic: close down all the Town offices and be done with it. Tax dollars saved, end of discussion.

          The primary focus should be on delivering the services to the Town citizens that the Town is required by law to provide. This requires the prudent use of tax dollars.

          I understand accountability for tax dollars. We can agree on that matter. But in the realm of people business there are only two things that matter, quality of tangible service and quality of customer service. It's agreed that elected officials should be good stewards of the dollar, but as a mayoral candidate, what type of tangible and customer service do you want provided to the town? Cadillac or Kia? Less will rarely gain you more in terms of customer service.

          I don't see the "throw money at it" theme in this article. I do see officials having an open discussion about an issue and working to resolve it. I see potential problems being brought to light up front and one official openly stating she will keep an open mind to the issue. Seems to me that this is government working as it should instead of just sweeping it under the rug.


      You said it all Ratty end of discussion.

    Why can't payments be made online?

    So is the issue a bill paying problem or a customer service problem? The problem needs to be identified before a viable solution can be found. Mr. Ratigan is quick to point out solutions that none of us could have possibly thought of on our own, but wants to apply them before knowing the crux of the problem.

    And one more point to make. Chances are if the office is open later or open on Saturdays for a few hours it would probably be limited services limited to Bill Paying Only and the tax payer/customer would not beable to access the other services anyway. That is the big point to consider. And something I would do if I was making the decision to conserve resources. And most businesses that have extended hours would have the extended hours with limited services available.

    Time to shift the paradigm on-line bill paying, pay by credit card or mail your bills. A web page to allow the customer to request service on all services that the Finance office provides, with a next day turn around by a 9-5 finance employee who could respond to all request for service. There are better ways to provide service without staying open later or causing more payroll costs. Open your minds to new and and better ideas.

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