PSC embracing new technology

By CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,

Technology rules in this day and age, and the Public Service Commission of Yazoo City is changing the way it operates public utilities to keep up with the times.  In his first year as general manager, Richie Moore has been involved in strategic planning that involves improving the future of PSC in the areas of employee safety and security, infrastructure, collections, and enhancing the company's workplace culture.

"When I first started working here on March 21, 2018, one goal I had was to incorporate safety into the work that we do," Moore said. "Because we are a government agency, OSHA doesn't regulate us, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be safe for ourselves or our families that we go home to every day.  Now the guys are at every job wearing their hard hats, safety glasses, and harnesses that they had not been wearing."

Moore also felt that the security of the employees at the main office should be considered as well, and has since installed security doors in multiple locations.

"Our assets and our cashiers were very vulnerable," he said. "Anyone could have come in to the area where the cashiers sit if they really wanted to.  Now with these doors you must have a key to gain access to those areas, so we have beefed up the security a good bit."

Another goal that Moore had upon taking his new position was to improve the rate of collections on utility bills for PSC.

"When I first came, we were collecting on average about 65 percent of our bills that we would send out every month," he said. "Over the last three or four months of this year we have been collecting about 80 percent of what was billed out."

Moore added that this 15 percent increase in collections shows that customers are paying back more of the utilities that PSC deliverers to them each month.  Because PSC operates as a non-profit, any increase in revenue is often re-invested back into the utilities they come from, and any surplus generated will be distributed at the end of the fiscal year back the city of Yazoo City who owns the public utility.

Another reason for the increase in collections from the billing department, is that recent upgrades to water meters all over the city are producing more accurate data which goes on the bill.  This upgrade to the water department's infrastructure is a much-needed investment for the future which will save time and money for PSC.

"Right now our contractors have replaced approximately 3,500 meters," Moore said. "They still have about 1,000 more to go.  We are actually taking readings from 1,100 of those new digital meters now."

He went on to explain how much more efficient these digital meters are when compared to the original spinning dial meters that have been in the ground for decades.

"It used to take meter readers about three days to read 500 water meters," Moore said. "Now they can read that same amount of water meters in about three to four hours, and they are getting a more accurate reading."

Moore said that the new digital meters are equipped with an antenna which transmits meter data directly to a device on the Public Service trucks, and that the workers never have to leave the vehicle to get the readings that they need.

"Another thing about these new meters is that they can alert us about leaks or breaks in a water line," he said. "Just last week we were able to inform a customer about a leak on their property, and that customer was able to get it fixed quickly instead of waiting to find out about the leak when they got their bill."

Moore said that his water crews are now able to be more proactive in repairing breaks in PSC service lines thanks to data from these new meters.

Another item on Moore's checklist this year was to enhance the culture of the PSC workplace among employees.

"I think we have made some progress in improving the company culture here," he said. "We have made some internal changes as far as employees.  The guys feel like they are more empowered now to be team players instead of everybody working for their own self interests.  We still have some work to do, but we did make some improvements in that aspect."

In order to bring about these positive changes in the workplace, Moore said that he incorporated a new retirement plan for individuals to maintain their health care coverage after they have put in so many years working at PSC, and he has also ensured the industry standard of overtime pay to compensate employees who are on standby over the weekend.

Moore added that he is also helping the individual departments with all of these new transitions by holding weekly meetings.

Moore also said that department heads are holding lead team meetings to promote interaction and handle any questions or concerns efficiently.

It is through these meetings that Moore said he has been able to really determine the needs of Public Service, which has helped the organization move forward.

One added investment to the company's assets recently was a new sewer pump for the water treatment facility, which will save PSC thousands of dollars in the long run, instead of renting a pump from a third party.

"It will all help in the long run," Moore said. "We are spending, but its just about reallocating our resources and prioritizing.  Overall we are actually about $4,000 ahead from a net income standpoint from where we were last year, even though we are making all of these investments and repairs."

Going forward, Moore said that the future of PSC will include a new operating system that will benefit company operations and customer service, and that they will be looking more closely at how he will fill employment positions when they come available.

"We are reducing staff where we have to, consolidating positions, and creating new positions when we need to as the company changes," he said. "The skill set and the type of employees that we will be hiring in the future will require a different skill set than some of the people we hired 20 years ago."

Moore said that other future infrastructure changes that are planned for Public Service include new wireless electric meters that will transmit data in the same way as the new water meters.  These new electric meters will send more accurate data to "routers" on the utility poles, which will transmit the data directly to the main computer system at PSC.

"With this new system, we will not have to go out into the field at all to get these readings," Moore said. "This new system will be more accurate and more efficient from an operations standpoint."

Moore said these plans came about with the help of PSC's partnership with Jim Hemphill of the Victor Group, who is helping the Board of Commissioners create a strategic plan for the next five years.

"The first part of our strategic plan was the process part, where we have gone through the process of understanding the state of Public Service, the culture, what risks we have, and what skill sets we have," he said. " Next we are working on our long term plan for the next five years, which is finding out what infrastructure we need to replace, what skill sets we will need, and the type of employees we need to hire and investments we need to make."

Moore said that all of these things that are in the works will hopefully lead to his goal of making the Public Service Commission in Yazoo City one of the best in the state.

"I feel good about these things that we are doing because it is setting a foundation," he said. "This is my goal, this is what I am striving for. I want Public Service to be the utility that other public power utilities want to be like in the state of Mississippi.  I want us to be the benchmark utility."