Officials of Butler County’s largest city for years have been urging residents to use Hamilton’s electronic 311 system, which they say make it easier for people to report everything from potholes and burned-out street lights to prostitution, petty thefts and drug abuse.
With the 311 system, people can easily report problems, and even attach photos or videos to show city employees exactly where and what the problem is.
The urging of people to use the 311 application has grown in recent weeks as Lindenwald residents have complained about homeless people walking or biking along their streets at all hours, stealing bikes, hanging plants and many other things, and disposing drug needles where children can find them.
“People are not bothering us” if they use the 311 application, Police Chief Craig Bucheit said recently, adding that those who file requests will get results.
Hamilton’s initial 311 system was introduced in January 2011. In December 2017, the city unveiled an upgraded system that costs about $15,200 per year to operate.
City staff note it’s a way to contact the city around the clock, every day of the year. When the new system was rolled out, Adam Helms, the city’s director of resident services, said that if an employee doesn’t resolve an issue quickly enough, “it’s going to get pushed up to his supervisor, so his boss can hold his feet to the fire, and say, ‘Hey, how come you haven’t responded to this?’”
Gina and Paul Hettesheimer, who live in Lindenwald, have been pleased with the quick results on issues they have reported, particularly when they told the city about illegal dumping along Zimmerman Avenue near the CSX railroad tracks, and tall weeds on neighborhood properties.
With one other issue Paul Hettesheimer reported, involving a business whose parking-lot lights were not on, the city was unable to resolve, he said. He later tried lobbying the owner, without success, to light the property so people wouldn’t congregate in the area at night.
“We need people to be the eyes and ears of our community,” said Brandon Saurber, Hamilton’s director of Strategy & Information.
He noted there are only so many police officers, health inspectors and other city employees.
“To assume that we know all of the issues out there, in a real-time basis, is just not true,” he said.
The 311 system can be used on Hamilton’s website, www.hamilton-city.org, or via a free smart-phone app (look for “311 Hamilton” in the app stores).
The 311 process is “more efficient and more accountable,” Saurber said, especially with public works tasks, such as pothole-filling.
When something is reported, “it’s not only going directly into somebody’s inbox, it’s actually going directly into their work-order system,” Saurber said.
The 311 system also makes city staff also more accountable because if a resident calls the city to report an issue and an employee gets distracted and fails to pass along a work request, “we have no record per se of that contact,” Saurber said.
But “with 311, the residents can very easily hold us accountable and say, ‘Yes, I have Issue XYZ, and it hasn’t been resolved.’”
In some cases, if a task isn’t performed, the system does pass it up to the employee’s supervisor, Saurber said.
After the city has handled someone’s 311 request, “they should receive notification that the issue has been closed,” Saurber said.
“I’ll be honest with you: I think that we have varying degrees of response that we need to standardize,” Saurber said. “To say that each department does that kind of communication equally well I think is inaccurate at this point, but that’s something we’re definitely talking about improving.”
“We’ve noticed recently as we’ve been looking at this that some departments handle it differently than others,” he said.
Some issues that are more difficult to report information back to residents are longer-term issues, such as abandoned properties that are significant nuisances, or vice activity that people report.
With drug or prostitution investigations, for example, police can’t tell citizens how they’re doing undercover work, he said.
“I think most people understand it takes some time” with such complaints, Saurber said.
Lindenwald resident Anita Shively, who said she uses 311 frequently, said it has been very helpful when people dump illegally. But some complaints about homeless people trespassing on railroad property have gone unresolved, prompting her to file new complaints, she said.
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