Tricia Borsdorf of the Albany/Dougherty County 311 call center explains to Kiwanis of Dougherty members the function and operation of the non-emergency center. (Special Photo: David Shivers)
ALBANY — “I get excited, because I really feel like it’s an awesome service,” said Tricia Borsdorf. “It’s something not all communities have.”
The service Borsdorf was referring to during a presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County is Albany-Dougherty’s 311 call center, a non-emergency hotline for people seeking information or to register a complaint or report regarding services provided by the city, the county, or Water, Gas, and Light (WG&L).
Almost right off the bat, Borsdorf emphasized, “If you have an emergency (accident, medical crisis, violent crime in progress, etc.), do not call 311. You want to dial 911. However, for anything else that has to do with city or county government, we are glad to assist.”
“A lot of the time people are calling us because they need services,” said Borsdorf. “They need a pothole filled, their ditches need to be cleaned, a trash pickup has been missed, a streetlight has fallen down, a stop sign has been blocked or there’s grass or bushes covering it.”
“You don’t need to know who any of those services belong to, all you have to do is call 311. Once we find out what your issue is, we have software that actually generates a request” and forwards it to the proper department for a response.
An important element of the 311 call service, said Borsdorf, is its “trackability.”
“If you call 311, we take every phone call and we put it into our system so that we’re able to go back and track it.” Non-responses to a report or complaint escalate to a supervisor or department director and eventually to the city manager, she added, and “you can be sure nobody wants a service request going up to the city manager and it has not been worked on. I can guarantee if you call 311 and ask for a service that’s provided, we can go back, pull that request, see everything that’s done with it, and we can at least direct you to the right people. If it wasn’t done, we can reopen it, put it back in, and say it wasn’t done.”
Reports called in on issues such as code violations can be made anonymously if the caller wishes, Borsdorf said. She noted, however, “If you do submit something via the web or your (mobile) phone, then you have to register with a valid e-mail address with either of those.”
The 311 call center is manned by live operators from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday. After regular business hours and on weekends, access is available via voice-mail messaging and by computer or cell phone (with Android or Iphone mobile apps) via the center’s website (www.311.answers.com).
Online or mobile reporting have the added capability of attaching a photo of the issue in question. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” Borsdorf reiterated, so in addition to a word description, the responding department can actually see the situation.
The 311 center can’t control responses to complaints about services by outside entities such as Mediacom, Georgia Power, the Georgia Department of Transportation, or the railroad, since they don’t fall under city or county authority. What they can do, however, is provide a name and/or number the citizen can contact, but “we can’t control what they do with issues presented.”
Callers to 311 can also obtain information about community events or government functions such as where to pay a ticket or how to obtain a birth certificate or marriage license. “We pretty much have a schedule of what’s going on in the community,” said Borsdorf. “We try to keep up with what’s happening so we can pass information on to the citizens, and we do get a lot of calls.”
The 311 call center falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s information technology department, said Borsdorf, but funding for it is provided by the city, county, and WG&L.
“I can’t say that I know the answer to every single question,” Borsdorf concluded. “However, I can say that I will research and I will call you back. We will at least attempt to find out who does this and get you connected to them.”