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Utilities after-hours calls now being answered in T’ville

It’s a Saturday night and your lights go out. Have no fear, someone in Thomasville is now dispatching city crews to help.
City of Cairo Energy Services Director Rod Prince updated the Cairo mayor and council Monday night on the city’s transition from in-house dispatching to outsourced dispatching.
As of last Monday, Aug. 3, the after-hours and weekend dispatching for city utilities is being handled by the city of Thomasville at a cost of only $1,500 per month or $18,000 annually.
Previously, the city employed two full-time dispatchers and one part-time dispatcher to answer the phones from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. and on weekends and holidays at a cost of approximately $120,000.
“From an efficiency standpoint, there is no question this is the way to go. Thomasville has a state-of-the-art call center,” Prince said.
In addition to dispatching after-hours calls, Thomasville personnel will monitor the warehouse and adjacent compound via video surveillance and can also remotely open and close gates for city crews.
“We’ve had to spend some money up front on the surveillance system, security system and remotely controlled gate, but I feel this is the best move we can make,” Prince said.
Although the city is eliminating its dispatchers, it will invest in a new two-man locate crew that will locate utilities rather than crews from all divisions being dispatched to locate utilities.
According to Prince, under the current organization it takes as many as five trucks and 10 men to perform the duties a dedicated locate crew will handle.
“Our cost of doing business should go down drastically,” the energy services director said.
Because both cities use the same utility billing software, Thomasville employees at the call center can pull up the names and address of Cairo utilities customers. “If a customer calls, he would never know they were talking to someone in Thomasville or not, which is the case with many call centers,” Prince said.
Once a call is received, the Thomasville dispatchers will alert the on-call crew, electronically transmit a work order to the city warehouse for the crew to pick up and, once the work order is complete, the crew will notify Thomasville that the repair has been made. The following morning, Thomasville will transmit a call log with the times crews went out and when they returned, which will be provided to the appropriate timekeepers within the Cairo organization.
“I know this is a big move and change for a lot of people, but the way we’re doing it now is costing us a lot of money,” Prince said.
Prince says that 377-2489 (377-CITY) will continue to be the after-hours number.
The new system went live last week and Prince says that the only issue was a couple of work orders that were not included on the log the next morning.
Councilman Ernest Cloud asked if the former dispatchers were going to be used on the locate crew.
“We gave them all the opportunity to apply and one applied. We advertised the position and received five or six applications, and I’ve selected two that look real good,” Prince said.
“I would image it is a job that will require a good deal of training,” Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas said.
“Yes, it will require training. It is a critical job,” Prince said.
Councilman Cloud also questioned what would be the procedure if both cities suffer from heavy storm-related outages at the same time.
“If they (Thomasville) can’t handle it, they have agreed to allot us time to call in people to answer the phones. We don’t believe it will be an issue,” Prince said.
Councilman Douglas said that in the past the dispatchers would ride around and check on the city’s wells and lift stations, but Prince said all of that is now monitored electronically.
Councilman Cloud said that in the past dispatchers had been provided a radio so that they could communicate with the city police. Prince said he had not considered that, but said it would be no problem to provide the Thomasville call center with the radio or have them add the city’s police frequency to their radios.
“I give Rod a lot of credit for getting this done. There was a lot of phone issues to work out and rules of engagement to work through, and he has done a very good job. Not only will we realize savings, but the quality of service will be improved as well,” City Manager Chris Addleton said.
Prince was quick to note, “I didn’t do it all by myself. I’ve got good folks working with me, too.”

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