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The Future of 311

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

April 23, 2009

Last week, Mayor Eddie A. Perez praised his 311, non-emergency phone line.

This week, some on the city council say they'd consider cutting it.

The city council is beginning its work on a budget that threatens to raise taxes on the average single-family homeowner by 13 percent, or $378. Perez's three-year-old call system could be on the block.

"I did mention it to the mayor as something I was thinking of," said Councilman Luis Cotto, of the Working Families Party.

The phone service plays a valuable role when it comes to internal accountability, Cotto said. Because complaints are tracked, there's little room for error or excuse, he said. In that regard, Cotto likes the 311 service.

But it does cost money.

"When the council does not want to go as high as the [proposed tax] increase, you're looking at all the departments," Cotto said.

Councilman Matt Ritter also named 311 as a potential cut. "It's been a mixed bag of results," Ritter said. "I'm not going to sit here and say it hasn't produced good results for us. The problem is, we're broke."

Last week, Perez praised the service for reaching "a new milestone" as it surpassed the 100,000 call mark. Perez says people dial 311 to ask questions about taxes, vital records, and other things that have then reduced the number of calls coming into the city's 911 emergency line. (Perez's press release is below.)

It costs $200,000 a year to operate, with three full-time constituent service representatives, one supervisor, two part-time employees and an annual software fee, the city said. The city says that the complaint line helps the city more quickly complete projects like trash problems, tree complaints, and broken streetlights.

Still, 311 will be one of the many things up for discussion as the council moves ahead.

"Is it a critical service?" Ritter asked. "To me, police protection is a critical service; 311 may not be the definition of critical. Important? Useful? Liked by some? Yes."

But there's a difference, he said, between critical and "we'd love to have it in better days."

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HARTFORD'S 311 SYSTEM REACHES NEW MILESTONE

---NEWS RELEASE---

(April 15, 2009)--- For the second straight year, Hartford 311 has surpassed the 100,000 call mark. The most frequently asked questions refer to taxes and vital records, like birth certificates.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez says, "We're starting to see a reduction in calls for 911 as people learn more about calling 311 for non-emergency questions. Also, you can enter your own service request online at www.311.hartford.gov. Everyday, 311 proves its efficiency and effectiveness."

Here are more details:

Call volume increased by more than 6,000 from 2007-2008 - despite staff reduction and service hours

Burden is being reduced on the tax office by increasing the number of tax inquiries handled by almost 5,000

The number of follow-up cases for departments continues to be low (10-11%)

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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