Staffing Shortages Impacting City Service Operations, Tulsa Officials Say

Wednesday, December 1st 2021, 10:12 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

Tulsa city councilors brought in officials from the city's Water and Sewer Department, Customer Care Department and Finance Department to answer questions about the collective effort to improve city services on Wednesday.

Officials addressed several challenges over the last few months - and cleared up questions on water bill accuracy, staffing shortages, and long wait times for calls.

A low unemployment rate is usually good news - but it's made it hard to staff city some service departments.

James Wagner, the Director of Finance and Chief Financial Officer for the City of Tulsa, says kinks in hiring have had a ripple effect on multiple systems.

"Unemployment is at historic lows now," he said.

"We're at 2.1% unemployment in the Tulsa metro area, the lowest point in over 30 years. And so we are, just like everyone else, trying to make sure that we are recruiting people and that our wages are competitive."

City officials say they've been getting reports of inconsistent billing, confusing messaging, and long wait times to speak with a representative on the phone.

Part of the proposed solution starts with installing thousands of new automatic water meters to make up for the manpower shortage.

"Making sure that we don't have to necessarily send out meter readers to go read every single month, which will help in terms of the accuracy," Wagner said.

Utility Systems Manager Troy Stafford said there aren't enough meter readers - so the city has to make estimations on billing.

Those estimations have led to a flood of concerned callers - but there aren't enough people to answer the phones.

In the meeting, Wagner said a solution to the staffing issues would be to increase pay rates - making the city a more competitive employer.

Officials are also looking into making water bills easier to understand, and has avoided sudden shutoffs by placing warnings on customers' doors first.