Augusta prepares to handle inquiries through new 311 system, abandoning popular Augusta Cares
by Eric Johnson
Taking a page from Columbia County and other local communities, Richmond County is looking to establish 311 service to replace its successful, though somewhat limited, Augusta Cares program.
Augusta recently obtained permission from the Public Safety Commission to use 311 as the officially recognized phone number citizens can use for to make non-emergency contact with local government.
“A number of agencies have already implemented 311 and they’ve shown great success,” says Deputy Administrator Tamika Allen, who also heads up Augusta’s Information Technology Department. “Having a one stop shop for our citizenry as well as for any visitors is very valuable to have.”
The 311 system will allow citizens and visitors to communicate with the city regarding county services and other local topics.
In Columbia County, which has had 311 since 2005, the 311 Center has four full-time staff members who initially were either transferred from other departments or hired through attrition. According to Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker, one of the main benefits is the fact that the number relieves the Emergency 911 Center of non-emergency calls, though most users are just happy to have a place to call to get answers.
“The one stop shopping — and the follow through on requests — makes the citizens very happy,” Tucker says. “Our citizens love it.”
Currently, Augusta Cares handles its own calls and each department also fields some calls. When things switch over, Augusta 311 will incorporate staff from Augusta Cares, the Utilities Department, the Environmental Services Department and Engineering.
“It’s going to take some rigorous training,” Allen says. “We have those various staff members coming from different departments, so we’re actually consolidating.”
Because of that rigorous training, Allen says she doesn’t expect the 311 system to be up and running before March of next year, though the software and necessary hardware has already made it through the bidding process, with Motorola coming out on top in both categories.
The estimated technology cost of the project, which Allen expects will respond to approximately 250,000 public inquiries a year, will not exceed $477,000, while personnel costs are not expected to be a factor.
“We’re not actually looking at any major personnel costs,” Allen says, “because we will be taking the personnel that are actually in those departments and combining them in one centralized call center.”
According to Tucker, Columbia County’s 311 system received inquiries from 37,769 citizens last year. The program cost $196,000 and was funded by the user’s department, based on percentage of calls for those departments, which means it was not an additional general fund expense.
In February, Columbia County signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Augusta regarding the crossover of the 30907 zip code, promising to make every effort to assist callers without transferring calls and at no additional expense.
Though the committee, including Commissioner Bill Lockett, voted to approve the establishment of Augusta 311 and the acquisition of the supporting technology, the commissioner said he hated to see Augusta Cares go.
“As a new commissioner, whenever I was confronted with something I didn’t know the answer for, I called Augusta Cares,” he said. “I understand the rationale for 311, I just want to say that if 311 is three fourths as good as Augusta Cares has been over the years, it will be an outstanding investment in this community.”You Might Also Like: