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New budget cuts will cause the city’s popular 311 call service to shut down for all requests except emergencies for two Fridays per month, according to city officials.
The budget cuts result from the new contract for union employees represented by Stationary Engineers Local 39. As part of the union’s deal with the city, each member of Local 39 must take 88 hours of furlough time in the 2010/2011 fiscal year, and 96 furlough hours in the following fiscal year. Some of the union’s members work for 311, and they will be on furlough the two Fridays each month, according to city spokeswoman Amy Williams.
The call center’s new schedule with furloughs starts Sept. 17.
“We are unfortunately asking our constituents to be patient with us,” said Gina Knepp, division manager of 311.
Tens of thousands of people use the service to find information about city services, according to Knepp. The center receives an average of 1,500 phone calls each weekday, she said.
On average, 300-400 phone calls come in on Saturdays, Knepp said, adding that the call volume on Sundays is slightly lower than the volume on Saturdays.
This means that 311 receives an average of 30,000-35,000 phone calls per month, Knepp said.
In the last fiscal year, 311 received about 17,000 e-mailed requests, she added.
The call center will have employees on furlough Friday and Sept. 24. Starting in October, the center’s furloughs will be in effect on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.
“On those days, only limited staff will be on duty, and only emergency calls can be handled,” according to a Sept. 13 e-mail that General Services Director Reina Schwartz sent to the City Council.
In the city’s definition, 311 emergency calls could involve “injured animals, water, sewer or drain emergencies, roadway hazards and traffic signal malfunctions.”
In the past, the city received many compliments from citizens about 311, City Councilman Ray Tretheway said. But the call center is putting people on hold for longer periods of time as well as experiencing furloughs, he added.
The 311 cutbacks show “reality setting in of the severity of our budget cuts,” Tretheway said.
Southside Park resident Joy Korstjens said she uses 311 every couple months, adding that she’s more likely to use the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail service.
She said she is disappointed about the cuts to the 311 service, but also expressed sympathy for furloughed 311 employees. Korstjens, an employee at the state Department of Consumer Affairs, must take three furlough Fridays each month.
“As someone who is also furloughed, I feel bad for the employees,” Korstjens said.
The furloughs for 311 employees will affect their salaries, as well as add to their workloads when they return to work on Monday, she said.
Meanwhile, Knepp provided the text of the message that citizens will hear Friday if they call 311:
“Hello. You have reached Sacramento City 311. All calls may be recorded for quality monitoring purposes.
“It is Friday, Sept. 17th. The 311 Call Center will only be available for emergency calls today. Please stay on the line if you are reporting an emergency such as: injured animals, water, sewer or drain emergencies, roadway hazards and traffic signal malfunctions. An agent will assist you shortly.
“For all other inquiries, please call again tomorrow when we are open for full service.
“If your request is non-urgent and you prefer, you may e-mail us by writing to email@example.com. Thank you, and we do apologize for any inconvenience.”
Read the Sept. 13 e-mail that city staff sent to the City Council here.
Here is a list of the dates that 311 will be closed for calls that do not involve emergencies:
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.