City promotes new 311 service
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD -- Residents will now have to dial just one number, 311, to find out about services, make complaints or get information, city officials announced at a press conference March 18 to mark the formal start of the program.
Although the 311 service has been in operation since last September and has handled 60,000 phone inquiries, the city is now publicizing the new program. Springfield is the second community in the state to use the telephone number designated by the Federal Communications Commission as a way to provide an easy way to contact local government and to take the pressure off of 911 emergency numbers.
Finance Control Board Executive Director Steve Lisauskas said the service is expected to handle about 50 percent of the calls that routinely go to the city's 911 operators -- calls that have nothing to do with public safety emergencies.
Lisauskas said he expects over 150,000 calls will be directed to 311 over the next several days.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno called the city a "trailblazer" through its use of the new system. Somerville is the only other city in Massachusetts using the service.
Donna Carney, the service's director, explained the seven full-time and one part-time employee have been trained by department managers on the workings of the city's various services. The service representatives can answer questions ranging from when a pothole is going to be filled on a street to what does a resident owe in taxes.
If the issue involves action from the city, a reference number to the phone call is issued so the resident can check back on the progress of resolving that concern.
Although residents can still call individual departments, Carney said the new service provides "one stop shopping."
Carney added that 80 percent of the concerns are settled in the first phone call.
Lisauskas said that as many as 17 people in various departments were charged with answering questions from residents. The eight employees in the new service were all recruited from other departments and the new service will allow the employees of other departments to concentrate on tasks other than customer service. Lisauskas said the service would provide greater efficiency and save the city money.
"This frees up other departments to concentrate on other issues," Sarno said.
The service can tell city officials in real-time what the principal concerns of residents are at any given time and if there is a part of the city from which a large number of calls are coming.
In the light of budget cuts, Sarno said he doesn't see the new service being affected.
"This is something I would like to move forward on," he said.
The service is available on land and cell lines as well as on the Internet at www.springfield-ma.gov/311