Kitsap County wants one-stop-shopping for callers

New 311 service should make it a little easier to find the right department

Kitsap County is redesigning its phone system in order to make it easier for residents to find essential county services. As a result, connection to any county employee will be through a single source.

“We want to make the information that people need available in a place where they can find it,” said county spokesman Doug Bear, “and to add a level of transparency to local government.”

Bear, who has worked for Kitsap County for 21 years, helped create the Open Line in 1994. With the Open Line, anyone calling the Public Works Department would always get a real person instead of voice mail, and it provided a single point of contact to all the department’s services.

It has taken 14 years to get to the next step, which is to dial 311 for anyone in either Public Works or the Department of Community Development. These two departments have the most direct public contact and the most complicated public statutes.

At the same time, both departments are disseminating the same information repeatedly, such as which roads are closed and what permits are necessary to perform a certain home-improvement task.

After several months of internal tests, the 311 system is scheduled to go live in early 2009. A few months later it will incorporate the commissioners’ office, to be followed by other departments such as personnel and the courts.

Subsequently, the elected officials — treasurer, clerk, assessor, auditor and coroner — will decide whether to move their departments under the 311 umbrella.

At some point in the future, the public may be able to contact any county employee — from a Kitsap commissioner on down — through a single number.

Once in place, the new system will presumably provide a single message.

“People get inconsistent messages from the government,” Bear said. “It’s like calling the airport, where you never get the same fare information twice. We want to take a look at our policies and procedures and make sure we’re saying the same thing to everybody.”

Currently, three full-time employees staff the Open Line.

When DCD service is added, one more call center person will be transferred into that function.

Those working at the call center will work from a linked decision tree, which will include several if/then situations.

For example, the disposition of a dead animal in front of someone’s house will differ as to whether it is a cat or a cow or if it is a county right-of-way or a private street.

In some cases, the call center will be able to determine what form is needed to apply for a certain action, and e-mail that specific form to the caller.

Said Bear, “If we can save someone the trip down here, we will.”

Concurrent to the incorporation of 311 is the development of a new Web presence, tentatively called “Kitsap 24/7.” Here, residents will be able to see all online county functions in a single location.

“There are a lot of processes you can perform online,” Bear said. “More and more, people want to do things late at night, or when the office is closed.” 

The new system will also allow the aggregate tracking of data, to determine how many questions are being asked about a specific topic.

If enough people are calling about a problem, it could be time to issue a press release.

Similarly, the system will track the caller’s previous contact, so they do not need to continuously explain the same issue every time they call.

“Fewer things will fall through the cracks because we will have a better handle on open cases,” Bear said.

Bear said the implementation of the 311 system will not require any extra funds aside from personnel costs and some new software.

It won’t require any additional personnel, aside from the allocation of one employee to handle 100 calls each day.

“A lot of this is common sense,” Bear said. “And it will make interaction with the government less confusing.”

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