Mayor Jim Suttle's administration is moving ahead with plans to start a universal 311 citizen information line in an effort to remedy problems pertaining to City Hall.
“Right now some people are confused when they call different areas in the city,” said Barb Velinsky, community projects director.
Combining the existing Mayor's Hotline, which takes calls about any city matter, with other city phone numbers under a 311 citizen information line would cost the city $1.2 million over three years, according to a recent study by Stern Consulting Inc. of Evanston, Ill.
A 311 hotline would serve as the main number for people's general calls coming in to City Hall. It would allow the city to get rid of some other general numbers for city departments.
The study concluded that City Hall's current call centers aren't meeting customer service expectations. Callers are getting transferred without having their questions resolved, and city websites haven't provided easy answers.
The study suggested taking bids for 311 training and software.
The Suttle administration is considering the City-County Building as a site for a 311 call center. There are no plans to build a new call center.
The plans ultimately will be submitted to the Omaha City Council for approval.
Velinsky said the call center would be staffed with current employees.
Said David Dover, Suttle's deputy chief of staff: “Our approach to this whole issue is ‘How do we make government more accountable and more efficient?' Part of that is the communication component between government and residents of Omaha.”
Last November the City Council voted 4-3 to authorize the $93,000 study, which the Suttle administration had proposed.
The study suggested the city combine public works, planning and parks and recreation calls under a single phone line.
The 311 line would not replace the United Way of the Midlands' 211 social services phone line, which provides information about food, shelter, help for people with special needs, and volunteer opportunities.
Last year, 211 served as the hotline for general calls related to the Missouri River flood.
During an emergency, the two groups could work together to provide people with information, said Karen Bricklemyer, president and CEO of United Way of the Midlands.
Stern Consulting interviewed current call center employees, elected officials, county officials, city staff and neighborhood associations.
“People see 311 as an advantage, but as with any change, you don't know what that means for your department,” Velinsky said.
“I can see why some people are concerned, but our intentions are to improve things.”
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