INFRASTRUCTURE - The Successes
As Public Works keeps the lights on, Utility Billing opens a customer portal.
In the final month of 2019, Joey Meadors was able to show the Clinton City Council an impressive list of nine successes (see sidebar article) - but he left one off the list.
Not included on his Dec. 2 report to council was the Dec. 1 roll-out of a new pay portal for city utility bills on the City of Clinton’s website. It’s just as important as “pipes in the ground” as Meadors supervises this aspect of city services, too. Not just being sure customers get power and water, but being sure they can, securely, pay for these, also.
“We have quit taking payments on the phone,” Meadors said. “We don’t want to be part of anyone potentially having their identity stolen. We don’t want that ever to be traced back to the City of Clinton, where their identity was compromised.”
The city had a pay portal; Meadors believes the new one is a major upgrade. For people who don’t want to pay by computer or Smart-device, the Utility Building department this year developed a new drive-through window. Some customers just want that assurance of putting a payment in the hands of the human being.
They could do that previously, but they had to walk into city hall. When Founder’s Federal Credit Union closed one of its two Clinton offices, the city saw its perfect opportunity, Meadors said. “Not having a drive-through put a burden on our customers,” he said. “You can come in, or we can walk you through it on the computer. We will not take payments on the phone, because of credit card fraud, based on our red flag rules.”
In with the 49 employees Meadors supervises are three dedicated to IT (information technology). He also supervises Municipal Court. Most of his workforce runs electricity, water and sewer, sanitation, parks maintenance, and any other duty as assigned. Lately you will see Meadors’ employees taking down Christmas decorations; they also are cutting limbs, because if there’s an ice storm this winter, broken falling limbs will take out power lines -- better to cut it, than fix it.
“It is seasonal; we look at it as a boost to our citizens,” Meadors said of setting up and breaking down festivals and decorations. “The City rarely charges for anything; carnival rides and carriage rides but that’s really just break-even. It is a gift back to our community.
“We spend a lot of time on that, and trimming rights-of-way. In bad weather, limbs can down a line or touch a line. We do a pretty good job of it.”
Meadors credits “the management team we have built over the years” with running Public Works successfully. “Surround yourself with the right folks, that will allow you to get the job done, be pro-active.”
During 2020, Meadors said utility billing wants to roll out a pre-pay system, similar to a bank account that permits deposits. So many customers get one check a month, and they could “deposit” then and have the utilities payment drawn from the account - the account gets low, deposit again. “It shows your balance and sends a text or e-mail when it’s time to re-up. It shows your usage, so you are in control of everything (electricity, water) that you use. We think this helps our customers, including those who are paid weekly, and that could lower our cut-off rate. Also, this way, you don’t have to pay a deposit for power and water.”
Utility billing will keep the budget model - customers pay the same amount every month and settle up at the end - but Meadors said they are seeing concerns with that. “What if you’re paying $200 a month but you’re using $300 a month? You get a big bill at the end.”
The key, he says, is information that works for you, and staying aware of the amount of power being used.
“Our electrical system is in really good shape,” Meadors said.
His 2020 goal pertains more to water and sewer.
The City of Clinton remains under a SC Department of Health & Environmental Control Consent Order - basically mandating expensive upgrades to the sewer system with no accompanying state money to pay for the upgrades. Consent Orders can be triggered any time there is a sanitary sewer overflow (such as heavy rain) - the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission succeeded last year in getting its order lifted, after costly upgrades.
By the end of June, Public Works wants to have a boring done under the CSX railroad track and a major sewer upgrade done in the Gary - West Centennial Street area.
Once that’s done, road patching can be completed on Gary Street, and the rest of this street can be eligible for repaving. Gary is a long stretch of black top that runs from the water plant/public works headquarters downtown out to Charlottes Road almost at Sterilite.
The city will continue to apply for RIA (Rural Infrastructure Authority) and CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding to supplement what it will spend to get the Consent Order lifted.
The CDBG money must be spent in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, “and we have several of those - Lydia Mill, we have pretty well done,” Meadors said. “Clinton Mill needs work.”
Coming, Jan. 22: economic development successes.