Toledo City Council on Tuesday approved the Bell administration’s request to spend $250,000 to start online water and sewer billing but it effectively blocked the mayor’s request to appoint a new Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority member.
The $250,000 is contained within a $563,000 spending request for maintenance of the utilities department computer system. Council approved it 12-0.
There are about 500,000 water customers in Toledo and surrounding communities.
Public Utilities Director David Welch said starting an online billing portal on the department’s Web site would slash the time customers spend on hold to speak with a city employee.
Long wait times for the water department have been fodder in the mayor’s race this year. Lucas County auditor and mayoral candidate Anita Lopez has said repeatedly that the times are too long and promised to improve service.
The customer billing invoice system upgrade will allow customers to view and pay bills online, view consumption, manage addresses, manage bank accounts, and ask questions.
In 2011, the average wait time to speak with a water department representative was 22 minutes and 27 seconds. That was cut down to 12 minutes and 21 seconds this year, Mr. Welch said.
He said the online billing would cut the wait time because many callers are simply inquiring about the amount they owe or want an explanation of bills.
The department’s call center hours were 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays, which were increased this year to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., which helped reduce the average wait time. The city employs 21 in the call center.
Regarding the port authority, Mayor Mike Bell selected Mark Urrutia, agent and registered representative of Urrutia Insurance Agency/Skyway Financial Group LLC., as his next appointment. He would replace Margarita De Leon, whose term expired July 31.
Councilman Adam Martinez asked to hold the appointment until after the mayoral election this year.
Councilman Lindsay Webb supported Mr. Martinez’s idea, calling it a “disservice to the community” to allow Mayor Bell to appoint a member to the port board when he might be unseated. Ms. Webb also said she was concerned about the lack of women on the board. There are two women on the 13-member port board, Sharon Speyer and Andrea R. Price.
Councilman Joe McNamara, who is also running for mayor, supported holding the appointment. He said the same thing was done in 2009 when council held up a request from then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.
In other business Tuesday, council:
●Voted to designate Broadway and Segur Avenue in South Toledo as Roberto D. Gonzalez corner.
Mr. Gonzalez, who labored for decades, largely out of the spotlight, in service to Toledo’s Latino community, died last week.
He had retired as a coordinator of the Hispanic/Latino Outreach Program, which began in the early 1990s as an advocacy program for crime victims under the auspices of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office.
●Approved spending $360,000 to buy a camera truck to inspect 1,100 miles of underground sewer lines. The Bell administration originally asked for two trucks. The city has one other camera truck.
●Approved a zone change and special use permit for a 44-bed memory care facility at 3535 Executive Parkway in West Toledo.
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