City switching billing contract to save money

By: By T.C. Hunter - Managing editor

LUMBERTON — City Council members approved on Wednesday entering a contract for the printing and mailing of bills that has the potential of saving the city tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The city will save $53,681.07 a year under the contract with SmartBill, of Hebron, Ohio, said Linda Oxendine, director of Public Services/Tax Collector. SmartBill’s services would allow the city to modernize its billing system, create a more flexible billing format, increase the ease and security of mailing bills, and increase the efficiency of getting bills to city residents.

“We have many customers complaining that by the time I receive my bill, I only have two or three days to pay,” Oxendine said.

The city currently has a billing services contract with Pitney Bowes, Oxendine said. That contract was entered into in May 2013 and is to expire in June. But, the contract with SmartBill could be initiated as soon as possible, and the city will save money even while paying the Pitney Bowes contract and the SmartBill contract at the same time.

The council members also approved awarding two qualification bids to The Wooten Company, an engineering firm with offices in Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Greenville. Details and costs for Wooten’s services related to the two engineering project will be worked out later by city staff and the company.

The first project involves replacing a 6-inch water main that crosses the Lumber River near the Fifth Street Bridge.

Public Works Director Rob Armstrong said the pipe was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. The Federal Emergency Management Agency decided the best repair option is to replace the pipe. FEMA is to reimburse the city for all costs related to replacing the pipe.

“We are only in the design phase of this project, that’s how slow FEMA moves,” Armstrong said.

One reason Wooten was recommended for the contract is its expertise and experience in the method needed to replace the pipe, Armstrong said.

The second project involves improving the sewer system west of Interstate 95 from near Robeson Community College to N.C. 211.

The system in that area is nearing capacity as a result of growth, Armstrong said. A study conducted in 2015 showed the most feasible solution to the problem is to divert the current sewer flow from the Mayfair and RCC areas across I-95 to the new northeast sewer interceptor.

Wooten was recommended to receive the project contract because of the company’s familiarity with the problem.

Construction to fix the problem could start in a year, Armstrong said.

“I have a problem with one company dominating all the projects of the city,” Councilman Chris Howard said.

The city should be doing everything possible to ensure smaller, and local, companies get a chance to receive engineering contracts, he said. Some of the local companies, minority or otherwise, can service smaller contracts.

“They should be given a chance to prove themselves,” he said.

Armstrong assured Howard that local companies were given a chance to bid on the projects.

City Council members received good news regarding the city’s delivery of electricity to residents.

A 2017 NC Public Power Customer Satisfaction Survey revealed that Lumberton residents are satisfied with their electric utility service.

“Considering the hurricane you just went through the results were very, very positive,” said P.J. Rehm, supervisor of Technology & Renewable Programs at ElectriCities.

Lumberton is a member of ElectriCities, a membership organization including public power communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The survey was conducted by calling randomly selected telephone numbers in the Lumberton market. Among the survey’s findings were 85 percent of customers were satisfied with the public utility’s customer service and 70 percent would continue to pay for public power. The survey also revealed 55 percent of residential and 65 percent of business customers were aware they were buying electrical power service from a public utility.

“The customers are happy. You keep the lights on and they pay a fair price,” said Kelsey Lawhead, ElectriCities Product Marketing Specialist.

Council members voted to have city staff members conduct research and present options on the creation of a lapel pin that would be awarded to residents who make significant contributions to the city or take an action worthy of recognition.

The idea for a new lapel pin was brought up by Councilman John Cantey Jr., who said the city needs an award that is unique but similar to the city pin worn by council members and that has been presented to many residents in the past.

“There’s probably a couple thousand of these pins out there,” he said.

In other business, council members:

— Approved awarding a winning bid on a Priority Repairs Contract 1-Gravity Sewer Rehabilitation project. The winning bid of $332,134.50 was submitted by Prism Contractors & Engineers, Inc.

— Approved allowing the Lumberton Fire Department to enter into an automatic mutual aid agreement with volunteer and municipal fire departments throughout the county.

“The agreement is designed to provide greater efficiency in the mutual aid arrangements among the departments,” Lumberton Fire Chief Paul Ivey said.

— Approved a request from Cynthia Ann Wilcox to rezone property located at 306 E. 21st St. from residential single to business community so she can operate florist business on the property.

— Heard the first of two required public hearings about pursuing as much as $750,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Revitalization Program. The money would be used to help victims of Hurricane Matthew, who have been denied other assistance, repair their homes or relocate.

— Approved a conditional-use permit request from Snake Solar LLC so the company can operate a solar farm on property at 2399 Snake Road.

— Approved a request from Full Gospel Tabernacle Inc. to rezone property at 104 Carolina Ave. from light manufacturing and business general commercial to residential single family/duplex.

— Approved a request from Renee Perry to rezone property at 1502 Godwin Ave. for the purpose of operating a mobile home sales business. The city imposed the condition that no storage buildings or mobile homes be displayed at the property.

— Approved allowing the operators of Lumberton Regional Airport to pursue grant money to help fund the construction of a new terminal.

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By T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]sonian.com.