By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Miami had high hopes for its one-stop shop for local government services, but some now question the program’s effectiveness.
Miami-Dade County’s 311 call center, started in 2005, sought to save the county money while providing as much information to residents as possible, including animal care, parks and recreation, permitting and licensing and consumer protection.
Easy peasy and all in one phone call.
But the lack of follow-up on incoming calls has some wondering how useful the system really is, and whether it’s living up to expectations.
311, the go-to place to both report and receive information, gets a lot of phone calls. Queries like the steps involved in registering to vote or how to find an address are handled promptly and don’t require any follow-up. But complaints about stray dogs, illegal garbage dumping, faulty street lights and garbage collection require a good deal of coordination among departments and services to make sure the job was done.
Aimee Martinez, assistant manager of community information and outreach at the Miami-Dade call center, told Florida Watchdog that 2009 budget cuts have made it hard to know if the program is successful.
“We had a program where we would send an email to the caller (to see if) the problem that had been reported was closed and if the work they requested had been done. That way we would know if the case had been closed or was still open, but that program is no longer in effect,” Martinez said.
Now, once staffers route the call to the correct department, they simply move on to the next call without follow-up.
Florida Watchdog failed to find any audits or reports verifying the value of the program. According to a report by Miami Today, in 2009 two dozen staffers were added to the call center payroll.
Thomas Ginsberg, project manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that works at improving public policy, said his group reviewed Philadelphia’s 311 program, along with several other cities’ programs, including Miami-Dade, and found they didn’t actually save money.
“One of the main justifications for the 311 service, 10 years back, was that they would save money and enable cities to be more efficient in providing services there, in addition to being very helpful for the citizens,” Ginsberg said. “What we found is that did not happen. Most of the cities were not able to save much money through government efficiency.”
“Creating (the system) from beginning to end is very expensive and can take several years,” he added.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter