Transition in city clerk's office prompts plans to reorganize departments
Belfast — A recently-filled vacancy in the Belfast city clerk's office gave the city manager opportunity to re-evaluate the department's structure and how it divides responsibilities with the finance department.
At the Aug. 5 Belfast City Council meeting former Downeast Credit Union Branch Manager Amy Flood, of Searsport, was appointed as the new city clerk, following the resignation of Denise Beckett who served in that position since 2010.
City Manager Joseph Slocum proposed at the same meeting a new streamlined organization of Belfast City Hall's street-level lobby offices, which he said will make them more efficient and improve the public's experience.
Currently, the city clerk's office, at the counter to the back, handles hunting, fishing and dog licenses, voter registration, transfer station stickers, and birth, death and marriage certificates. The tax collector's office handles tax collection, car registration and sewer bills at the counter to the left. When a resident enters City Hall for a service not listed on the signs above the two counters, he has to guess which counter to approach. Meanwhile, the clerk, tax collector, treasurer and their deputies wonder, while working at their desks or assisting other customers, who would be the right person to assist him.
In the suggested reorganization, the city clerk's office would be responsible for all counter services. Two staff would be stationed at the counter to the left of the lobby all times the office is open.
The proposed reorganization would also remove the treasurer's office from day-to-day counter management, and the tax collector's and city clerk's offices would be merged. The portion of accounts payable duties currently the responsibility of the the city clerk's office, would be transferred to the treasurer's office, with the city manager's office providing oversight and checks and balances.
“The clerk's office doesn't need to be tied up two and a half days a week looking at accounts payable,” said Slocum.
Slocum said the plan would eliminate the need to cross train staff from the clerk's, tax collector's and treasurer's offices to assist customers. All counter staff will report to one chief, the new city clerk, instead of two as they have had to in the past.
Also, with four staff members rotating every four hours between desk and counter positions, each staff member will have dedicated desk time to work on reports and tasks best accomplished without interruption.
“Right now people are running around between desk and counter, and task is interrupting task,” Slocum said.
However, staff at their desks will be available to assist at the counter if necessary. When a resident comes in with a confidential matter, Slocum said, one of the desk staff can assist them at the unused counter away from the other customers. That counter or the wheelchair-accessible station can also be opened up at peak times to deal with high-volume, quick services — absentee ballots, for example.
Another suggestion was to have a box for sewer bill payments with a photocopier next to it so those can simply be dropped off by residents (after photocopying for their records) and entered by staff at a slower time during the day.
Slocum also proposed a closing time of 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, generally the office's quietest day of the week, to give staff time to coordinate the reorganization and to communicate about internal matters. This will be done on a trial basis for up to six months.
“We want to make people's experience quicker, more efficient, more pleasant and more welcoming,” Slocum said."I am confident that with these changes and improvements in our weekly communications, we can better achieve these standards."