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Published January 24, 2012, 10:11 PM

New 311 Call System For Citizen Concerns

There will soon be new options for Grand Forks citizens to report repairs or concerns in the city. The city is working on a toll-free phone line and a mobile application for non-emergencies.

There will soon be new options for Grand Forks citizens to report repairs or concerns in the city. The city is working on a toll-free phone line and a mobile application for non-emergencies.

311 will be the new toll-free number for citizens to ask questions, or to report problems and concerns. The Public Information Center is working on putting this new system in place.

"Citizens are the ones that have the eyes. They see much more than we do. And to have more people looking for things that, some are small but they might be big to them, or just to make our city better," City Council President Hal Gershman said.

Gershman presented the idea of a one-stop 311 phone system at a November city council meeting. The city's Public Information Center has spent the past couple months looking into the idea.

"And I think technology has driven it a little bit too. As I mentioned, phones they dial different. They don't have the, you know, we had 746-INFO," Public Information Officer John Bernstrom, who is working on this project, said.

The Public Information Center has used 746-INFO since the 1997 flood. This new system would include the toll-free local 311 number, and a toll-free 1-800 number for those with phone accounts outside city limits.

"So we'd have to set up two lines with a one-time cost, a few hundred dollars each line," Bernstrom said.

The system would also include a mobile phone application to report problems to the Public Information Center through email.

"A pot hole, you pick that one, you're then prompted to take a picture, and it generates an email to our office. So we know where it's at, what it is and we can actually see it," Bernstrom added.

Potholes, street lights and signs, snow removal and icy roads are all common concerns the center hears now. This new system will allow the city to track these calls and even let citizens know when the problem is fixed.

"You generate a report, it goes to wherever it needs to go and then it's dealt with. And if they left a contact number that we'd get back to them and follow through and finish it off," City Council Member Terry Bjerke said.

The Public Information Center is staffed with three people who answer calls Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. There will be an answering machine for after-hours calls. And there will always be that email option.

City Council members hope this new system will help eliminate some of the non-emergency calls to the 911 dispatch center.

The system should be ready by this summer.

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