By NATHAN GREGORY
Another August in Starkville has arrived, bringing with it the influx of Mississippi State University students moving into town and getting their lights cut on at their apartments and houses.
Starkville Electric Department manager of offices Katie Gent says SED receives 20 to 30 orders on a typical business day, but this week is just a little different. SED takes approximately 700 orders a day during its busiest week of the year, which is always the week during which July ends and August begins.
For that week, all hands are on deck at SED making sure two things happen, Gent said: They get their customers’ accounts started, and they make sure the electricity is on when the customers arrive at their new temporary homes.
“You have people upstairs that may do other accounting functions, but during that week they push those aside. They help answer phones, they work on the mail because the cashiers can’t do it and they do anything that is needed to get the customers’ applications processed,” Gent said. “Their normal day-to-day work will be pushed aside for about a week.”
SED General Manager Terry Kemp said there has been consistent improvement in service in recent years despite the volume of incomers getting their accounts processed. This is primarily due to the amount of preparation put into this one week by the staff of more than 30 employees, he said.
“We started contacting landlords earlier. There’s a good working relationship between us and the landlords. We want to communicate because it takes us all working together. This year (Gent) put together welcome packets, which is more information to help the transition a bit earlier to our new customers. This week it’s all hands on deck. We only focus on our top priorities. We work long hours, work through lunch and well into the evening trying to process the paperwork,” Kemp said. “These are our customers and a lot of times it’s kind of a first impression to Starkville … On behalf of the city often times we become the greeters. This is the (students’) first stop … People from all over the country come to the area and we want to do our part to make sure they feel welcome and get the service they expect in the time they expect.”
During this time of year, Gent said, SED has up to six trucks rolling with workers getting electricity cut on at apartments and houses. The drastic increase in work does sometimes cause confusion with connection issues, she said, but proper measures have been put in place to quickly correct errors.
“We try to stay in contact with (landlords) and let them know what’s going on,” Gent said. “Most of them have been here long enough and understand the rush and they help us a lot making sure their tenants have what they need when they come up here.”
In July, SED officials unveiled another plan to implement an Advanced Metering Infrastructure system which Kemp said will be able to collect water and electricity meter data electronically, thereby providing more timely data, efficiency and overall better service to customers. Additionally, he said, such a system will help prevent the potential of meter reading inaccuracies.
“We hope to be ready to bring (an AMI system update and plan) to the board and move forward by January (2013). We’re in the final stages of going through a selection process and then we’ll start deployment. The deployment itself will take two to three years in stages, but we’re excited,” he said. “I think overall as we move in that direction it creates a more real-time reading, which helps the customer manage their accounts as well. It’s not only from our side; it’s going to provide the customers real time information that allows them to be more engaged with what their usage patterns are. I think it’s the way the utility industry is moving, and we’re moving along with it.”