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Comcast office closing draws council rebuke

Comcast’s announcement that it would be closing its customer service center in South Boston drew a sharp rebuke from South Boston Town Council during its monthly work session on Monday.

Paul Comes, director of government and regulatory affairs for Comcast, appeared before council to “answer any questions if I can about our announcement closing the local payment office.”

He answered very few, if any of them to council’s satisfaction during a pointed question and answer discussion.

Comes explained the office was closing due to a decline in foot traffic, adding a number of customers are taking advantage of other ways to pay their cable bills.

“We offer many different options, online, by mail, websites, checks, many different things that people really prefer,” said Comes.

“At that point, we had spoken with our customers and had gotten feedback. We looked at different ways our customers responded to us about different things.

“We’ve seen a decrease in activity at our office here, and it came down to a business decision.”

Foot traffic is declining in larger payment centers as well, Comes noted.

“We’re proud to serve South Boston.  I was here three or four years ago when I heard loud and clear the services you wanted,” he continued. “You wanted HDTV, and you wanted pay-for-view and higher broadband speeds, and we did that. We listen to our customers.”

At least one service promised within 12 months in 2010 did not become available until several months ago, according to Mayor Ed Owens, who asked Comes if an official survey had taken place to determine if area subscribers preferred to keep the customer service office open.

“No, we talked to our customers,” replied Comes.  “We continue to listen to feedback from our customers when they call. I don’t think we actually did a survey.”

Council agreed with the viewpoint expressed by Councilwoman Margaret Coleman, who told Comes that working people from Halifax County could not make the trip to the nearest Comcast customer service center in Danville within normal business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It takes customers in South Boston at least 35 minutes to get there. Are you doing anything to accommodate persons who work?” asked Coleman. “Some people don’t get off until 5 o’clock.”

Comes responded technicians are on call to address service issues.

“I hear what you’re saying, but it seems to me as a customer-driven company you’d want to accommodate your customer,” answered Coleman.

“A lot of us don’t want to go through all the rigmarole of going online.  I want a live body to talk to, and that’s been my issue. I’ve been one of your customers for some time,” said Councilman Coleman Speece.

“On the occasions I’ve visited your office, which has been several times, I’ve never been there where I didn’t have to wait in line. The last few years I’ve had as many citizens complain about Comcast as any other thing I deal with. I tell them we’re powerless, we signed an agreement.”

Speece added he didn’t believe Comes when the Comcast representative told council his company was listening to its customers.

“I can’t buy that, nobody talked to me, but I got the notice,” said Speece. “Our people feel betrayed. Our people are not happy about your closing the office, because they’re having to go to Danville. It’s an inconvenience.”

Foot traffic may be a dozen in a day to some people and 30 in a day to others, according to Councilman Bob Hughes.

“Don’t we deserve an answer with more specifics to justify foot traffic and or reasons why things are done, in all fairness,” Hughes said, referring to the closing of the customer service center.

“If I have to change my name on an account, I can’t do it over the phone or online,” said Councilwoman Tina Wyatt Younger. “I have to physically go to the office, so now customers have to go to Danville.

“That seems like an inconvenience to go 30 miles to change a name. It’s not all about payments.”

Newly-appointed Town Manager Tim Wilson, who recently moved to South Boston from Bedford County, told Comes some service issues with his Comcast equipment were addressed in far quicker time with the presence of a customer service center in South Boston.

Wilson considers the closing of the South Boston office as “an astonishing diminishing of service.”

“I don’t know what the critical number is for continuation of service in closing this office,” said Wilson.

The town manager suggested Comcast consider a reduction in hours if full-time hours could not be justified in order to keep the South Boston office open, even different hours of operation, which would be “more amenable to the working citizens of our county.”

Halifax County Supervisor Doug Bowman, also a Comcast customer, presented a resolution adopted by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors requesting Comcast to reconsider their decision to close the South Boston office.

He reminded Comes that businesses as well as individuals have benefited from Comcast services, asking Comcast to reconsider closing its South Boston office, or at least keep it open on a part-time basis, in addition to becoming more responsive to the business community.

“Quite honestly, I don’t really have very kind words to say about Comcast at this point,” concluded Owens. “They definitely have not been consumer friendly, and I think we got duped on the last franchise agreement with promises that just got kept after years in the agreement.

“When you come up with the Comcast agreement again, I’m, going to be one of the most negative people you deal with,” Owens added.

Finance report

Town Finance Officer Erle Scott told council revenues as of May 30 reflected a total of $8,797,591, including $305,019 in prior year revenues.

Those totals reflected 86 percent of budgeted totals, according to Scott, who said expenditures reflected a total of $9,102,611, or 89 percent of budgeted totals.

The cash operating general fund balance reflected a total of $2,010,197, with (-) $103,649 activity the past month.

Updated selected general fund revenues, as of Monday, included $146,193 in occupancy tax collections or 127 percent of budget;  $1,156,746 in meals tax collections or 105 percent of budget; $591,370 in business license tax collections or 121 percent of budget; $407,113 in local tax collections or 106 percent of budget; $518,415 in current personal property tax collections or 111 percent of budget; $852,033 in current real estate tax collections or 99 percent of budget; and $2,483,477 in categorical aid collections or 111 percent of budget.

The delinquent tax collection report detailed a total of $241,677.60 as of May 30, including taxes and fees, penalties and interest, and including delinquent collections in personal property, real estate, personal property relief and mobile home categories.

 

Those totals were 194 percent of budget, according to Scott’s report.