Jim McElvaney understands that not all of his customers are happy.
After all, he’s director of the Northeast Municipal Service Center — commonly known as “mini City-Hall” — and citizens are there to pay bills or resolve disputes with the city.
“It’s not like they’ve won the lottery and are picking up the proceeds,” he said.
Thus, the six-member staff works to keep everyone happy. The cashiers and water department representative try to keep the lines moving along and send customers on their way satisfied with the service.
“We provide a lot of services,” McElvaney said. “People, especially seniors, want a receipt in hand. It’s a job you can make a difference.”
McElvaney has worked for the city Department of Revenue for 38 years, the last nine as director of the center, located in a storefront at 9239 Roosevelt Blvd., in the rear of the Northeast Shopping Center, next to Paddy Whacks Irish Sports Pub.
On Friday, however, he will walk out the door for the final time, retiring at age 59. It’s a bittersweet feeling, since he likes his job.
“I hate to be leaving here,” he said. “It’s been a real privilege to serve the people of the Northeast. That’s what I’m going to miss the most, the people.”
Back in the summer of 1974, McElvaney’s dad, a committeeman, asked his son if he wanted to work for the city. One night, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo himself called the younger McElvaney, a St. Matthew and Father Judge graduate, to come downtown to see aides Marty Weinberg and Mike Wallace.
After looking at a list of job openings, he chose to work in the revenue department. He stayed for almost four decades, leaving under the Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
“DROP came long. It’s a large enticement to go out early,” he said. “Whether it’s good or bad for the city, I don’t know.”
Most of the people who come to the center are there to pay water bills and property taxes. Others visit to obtain licenses, pay other tax bills or restore their water service. Staff will remind senior citizens about the city’s low-income property tax freeze program.
Some procrastinators don’t seem to worry that their water and sewer bills are unpaid.
“They wait until the shutoff crew is there,” McElvaney said.
Some individuals come in to pay parking tickets or complain that leaves from a neighbor’s tree are falling on their property. The staff does not handle those matters. Gas and electric bills also cannot be paid on site.
The center is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cashiers close at 4:30 p.m. Customers can pay with checks and money orders, not cash or credit or debit cards. They must have a bill to make payment. There’s a five-bill maximum per taxpayer.
There is plenty of free, off-street parking. Inside, there’s a seating area and a television to keep people occupied until it’s their turn.
McElvaney started in May 2003, replacing the retired Joan Dillon, who still visits the center, which opened in 1985.
Former Mayor John Street was never a fan of the center. It closed for four months in 2005 for budget reasons, reopening in a former hair salon in the same shopping complex only after the city found a place with cheaper rent and utility bills.
Street believed that people should conduct their business “online, not in line.” Then-Managing Director Phil Goldsmith said mini-City Hall services were a “narrow, old-fashioned way of doing things.”
The Street administration did not close another mini-City Hall at 22nd and Somerset streets in North Philadelphia. That center has more services than the one in the Northeast.
Still, since the start of the fiscal year on July 1, some 80,000 people have visited the Boulevard site.
Looking back, McElvaney, of Rhawnhurst, described his time at the center as a “very fast nine years.” His replacement will be Esther Albino.
Recently, as he finalized retirement plans, he became sentimental while visiting the Municipal Services Building in Center City.
“Basically, I was in the same spot thirty-eight years ago. I was signing on, now I’m signing off,” he said.
McElvaney, who’ll turn 60 on Sept. 11, and his wife, Eileen, a nurse at the Holy Redeemer Lafayette independent retirement community on Verree Road, are soon to be empty-nesters.
Their son, Jimmy John, just bought a house in Fox Chase. Their daughter, Megan, will get married on April 21 at Presentation BVM, with the reception at the Cottage Green.
McElvaney will spend time helping his son with his house and will continue to serve as the house disc jockey at the Cottage Green, though he’ll be off-duty on April 21.
“I’m still there after all these years. It keeps me busy,” he said.
McElvaney has promised his wife he’ll cook one meal a week, serving up a different dish each time.
The McElvaneys recently bought a home in Jim Thorpe from recently retired police Capt. Deborah Kelly, the onetime commander of the 8th district who is moving to Florida.
The couple will remain in Philadelphia but also plan to buy a Winnebago to travel the United States.
McElvaney will also spend his time cheering on the Phillies, studying World War II, golfing, fishing and fixing up his house.
“I want to keep busy,” he said. “I don’t think I want to work full-time anymore, but I want to keep active.” ••EndFragment