Please Do Not Stay On Hold

Thomas MacMillan Photo Say you’ve got a street light out on your block. You’re not sure what number to call to report it, so you just call the mayor’s office, expecting to be transferred to voicemail limbo. Instead, the person answering the phone immediately punches your problem into a website that automatically issues a work order. What’s more, she calls you back a day later, when the site tells her your light has been fixed.

That chain of events may become a reality in the near future, thanks to a plan to more fully integrate City Hall’s “customer service” with the problem-solving website SeeClickFix.

City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts presented the plan Thursday night to the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee during a hearing on the mayor’s proposed $486.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year. It was one of several high-tech fixes he announced, ideas that will help the city move into 21st-century taxpayer services.

Thursday’s was the latest in an ongoing series of hearings and workshops on next year’s proposed budget. Click here, here, and here for coverage of previous meetings.

The city already contracts with homegrown tech start-up SeeClickFix to help city officials to learn from neighbors about things that need to be fixed: potholes, downed tree limbs, broken traffic signals. People can report such problems at SeeClickFix.com using their computer or smartphone, and the city will automatically log the request and start working on it.

But what if you don’t have a smartphone? Or any kind of internet access at all?

Starting in a couple of months, that may no longer be an obstacle, said Smuts (pictured). The city is working on a new protocol that will train every city worker who answers calls from the public to take resident complaints and put them right up on SeeClickFix. No more “Hold on, let me transfer you to the right department,” or, “I’m sorry, the person you need to speak to can’t talk, but you can leave a voicemail.”

Here’s how it will work: You call up the CAO Smuts’ office to report your street light is out. Brenda Pantelis, his administrative assistant, answers and enter the information into SeeClickFix. She tells you it will take a maximum of 48 hours for the city to repair the light. Public works automatically gets a work order with the location of the broken light. They go out and fix it, then mark the problem as fixed on the SeeClickFix. That automatically triggers an email to Pantelis, telling her the problem is fixed. The email includes your name, the time and date you first called her, and your phone number. She gets that email just because she was the one who happened to take your call, not because she has anything to do with public works. Pantelis then calls you back to tell you the light is fixed, the same way the system would have emailed you if you had submitted the concern online.

“The goal is if you reach a live body in the city, you can get your issue in,” Smuts said.

It’s part of an effort to consolidate the city’s complaint-intake process, so that everything gets funneled through SeeClickFix, Smuts said. A PowerPoint report he submitted to the committee shows “before” and “after” flowcharts illustrating the advantages of the new system.

In the “before” slide, parallel arrows indicate the several different ways the city currently learns of problems—email, phone calls, inspection, word of mouth—each of which has a separate trajectory and filing system. The redundancies and parallel systems create inefficiencies and cracks for things to fall through.

In the “after” slide, all the arrows flow into one place: SeeClickFix. Problems are all sortable and searchable there, and automatically tracked as they are addressed.

The new system will not cost the city any additional money, Smuts said.

There’s more. The system will not only help people report problems easier; it will help them get answers to their questions faster.

SeeClickFix will also help the city to create a Frequently Asked Questions page regarding city services. Every city worker who answers phone calls from the public will be able to pull up the FAQ page and immediately answer questions like, what the public library hours are, how to get another brown trash Toter, or what the street-sweeping schedule is. Again, this means an end to “Hold on, while I transfer you to someone who can answer your question.”

The FAQ will develop organically as people call in with questions, Smuts said. And it will be crowd-sourced online, so answers can be submitted not just by the city but by anyone on SeeClickFix. The city will have its official answer right at the top, but other can add more or better information if necessary.

“The thing I love about SeeClickFix is it was not designed to sell to city governments,” Smuts said. All those programs are cumbersome and unwieldy and not intuitive and user-friendly. And the system can grow organically. “It’s very easy to fix the engine while the car is running.”

You’ve Got (Voice)Mail, Officer

Smuts outlined other telephone-tech improvements in the pipeline.

One is a new auto-response option in the city’s emergency-call response center. During times when the emergency calls spike—a big car accident, for example, when everyone nearby pulls out cell phones and dials 911 at the same time—the call center could turn on the auto-responder for the non-emergency number. People calling that number would get an automated message saying, “If this is an emergency, hang up and call 911.” It would then give the caller a variety of options—press 2 for a police directory, for example.

Smuts said the call center will be trying out the auto-responder starting in the next couple of days.

The other telephonic advancement would be in the police department. The city is looking at setting up voicemail systems for all police officers, connected to email alerts.

Regular beat cops currently don’t get city-issued cell phones. If they want to hand their personal cell phone number out to people, they have to pay for the minutes they incur. Otherwise people wanting to reach them can call the department and leave a message that will be hand-written by whomever answers the phone.

Under the new system, people would be able to dial into a voicemail box for the officer they’re trying to reach. Smuts said the city’s been hesitant to do this because it doesn’t want the boxes to just get filled up if cops never listen to the messages. To avoid that problem, the proposed system would send cops a message on the computer in their cruiser, alerting them that they have a new voicemail. If the cop doesn’t check his messages, his supervisor will get an email. Pretty soon, an officer might have to answer to a sergeant about why he’s ignoring voice messages.

The city’s not quite ready to put this system in place, Smuts said. It could be an important part of the city’s new return to community policing, especially as walking beat cops take root in neighborhoods. As people get to know their local foot-patrol cop, they’ll want to call him or her directly more and more, Smuts predicted.

Live-Blog

Aldermen dug into many other facets of the nuts-and-bolts of basic city services Thursday night during what became a marathon four-and-a-half-hour hearing.

Supported by a rotating cast of department heads, Smuts held forth for nearly the entire time, informing aldermen about the workings of the parks department, public works, the library, engineering, and the fire department, among other things.

Aldermen heard about improvements in library-card-issuing protocol (it no longer requires a “blood oath”) and the number of holes utility companies cut into city streets each day (60).

Read on for details. The Independent reported live from City Hall, blogging the action as it unfolded:

7:01 p.m.: Chairwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks has not yet called the meeting to order. Aldermen Justin Elicker, Doug Hausladen, Ernie Santiago, Sal DeCola, Jorge Perez, Al Paolillo, and Evette Hamilton are here. Fire Chief Michael Grant is here, along with Assistant Chief Pat Egan. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts is here, along with his deputy, Jennifer Pugh. A few other city officials are in the gallery.

7:04: And ... we’re off. Jackson-Brooks officially begins the meeting by reading the agenda.

7:06: CAO Smuts and deputy CAO Smuts sit to start things off. Smuts will be presenting about the several departments he oversees, beginning with his own office.

Smuts: We have a number of customer service initiatives we’re undertaking. Looking for maximum return on expenditures. ... Over the last seven years, parks has been cut 38 percent in real dollars. The only department of mine that’s had any increase has been CAO office. We’ve added a couple of positions. ... [He’s going through this presentation.] ... The budget has gone up in recent years overall, but the amount spent on CAO services has stayed flat or declined. ... We’re trying to improve response to citizen reports on things like potholes. “Customer response” is a big focus this year. .. 2011 was an extraordinarily busy year, with a hurricane and record snowfall (winter of 2010-2011). ...

Alderwoman Migdalia Castro arrives.

Smuts: ... The sustainability office, newly created, has focused on cost-savings through conservation and “procurement” of energy. The result has been declining costs both through buying energy cheaper and using less of it. ... City Hall has a new fuel cell, which will save just under $1 million over 10 years. ... The Office of Sustainability is funded by a grant. Two staff people. ... We’ve reduced 95 percent of asthma-causing pollutants on city trucks with new filters. ... Civilian Review Board is also under CAO. That’s a big focus for this year. Civilian Review Board has not been as effective as it should have.

Hausladen asks a question about personnel changes from last year.

Smuts: HR was brought under CAO.

Alderwomen Jeanette Morrison and Delphine Clyburn have arrived.

7:20: Moving on to the public library. Smuts stays at the conference table. Pugh is replaced by Christopher Korenowsky (pictured), the city librarian.

Smuts: An historical overview—A high of 74 positions in 2001-2002 to 41 positions now. That’s despite the fact that this city has more library branches than it did.

[Smuts is going through this presentation.]

Smuts: The overall circulation trend is up, despite cuts.

Korenowsky: Library use is up since hours began to be restored in October. They were cut in February of 2011. Four locations out of five were open only three days a week. ... The libraries hired nine people.

Smuts: Library visits are down, but that may be due to a transition to an electronic counting system, from a hand counting system.

Korenowsky: An overzealous staff member may have done three clicks when they should have done one.

Smuts: Program attendance also took a “slight dip,” but the general trend is up. ... Computer usage is a big deal. A lot of folk in out city—this is how they get online. We had a dip in 2011. That’s due to the reduction in library hours and because we closed the basement in the main library for renovation.

Korenowsky: It was closed for just under four months.

Hausladen: Is the library doing anything to increase computer usage more?

Korenowsky: Yes. The Wilson Branch has a computer classroom. The internet connectivity feeds have been improved. All buildings have free wi-fi. ... This year is the 125 anniversary of the library. ... When I moved to New Haven in October, 2010, I knew I wanted “to have the voice of the community more fully placed within the organization.” Librarians often think we know best. I wanted citizens to tell us exactly what they want.. We did a five-month community needs assessment, with focus groups, 48 interviews, and 600 people taking an online survey.

Smuts: This was paid for with a grant.

Castro: Was this survey done throughout the city? Where did most of the input come from?

Korenowsky: The way in which we cultivated some of our focus groups and some of the citizens we spoke to was every branch pulled about 200 card holders. Junta helped us reach the Spanish-speaking community. We worked with elderly services to reach seniors. And we worked with parents of young children. ... Eight themes came out in what people want [last page of the presentation].

Perez: Getting a library card was difficult in the past? I came in with three picture IDs, three credit cards. I had a gun permit and a city ID. They still wanted me to have a piece of mail to prove where I lived.

Korenowsky: “You no longer need to sign a blood oath to get a library card.” We’ve improved the process. “It’s much easier.”

Smuts: This is a timely question. This goes back to customer service. This is a big focus this year. We know we have limited resources and would love to do more. ... Things like this “drive people crazy.” You’ll see we have a big focus on doing things like this better.

Elicker: Revenues?

Korenowsky: Most large public libraries have a 501 c 3 foundation. We have a director of development that works for our foundation, separate from any city money. .. The city is limited in what it can do to raise money. But the library has a conference room that it rents out.

Morrison (pictured): I’m from the Dixwell community. The Dixwell branch serves Dixwell and Newhallville. Is there any way to extend hours? We have one evening. It’s not enough.  “You guys close and the kids literally wander in the neighborhood.”

Korenowsky: The ultimate goal for the branches is to be open 66 hours a week. But the “cold, hard reality” of staffing is that we can’t open more hours without more personnel.

Morrison: The most crucial timeframe is 4 to 9 p.m. That’s when most of the robberies and murders happen. The libraries are a safe space. That’s where the computers are, the books.

Korenowsky promises to look into how much it would cost to increase hours.

7:49: Castro: My mother is recovering from cancer.  Can the city train volunteers and that would be part of staffing?

Korenowsky: We have 54 active volunteers. We have a volunteer coordinator who recruits.

Morrison: The Promise kids need community service hours. That might be another resource.

Korenowsky: The library has received a grant from the state of $35,000, and with that grant we’ve partnered with Promise and created Project Promise, which takes eligible Promise students and we help place them for their community service work. And it works on the parent education component of Promise.

Perez: Youth At Work provides jobs during the summer. Could you use young people? Would that violate a union contract? You could take them on as interns.

Korenowsky: We already do that through Youth At Work. ... We have to be careful with the work we assign them and the union contracts.

Perez: is your security contract up for renewal this year.

Korenowsky: It was just signed last week. We’re going with a new company that put in a more cost-effective bid.

Perez: They’ll be paid a livable wage?

Korenowsky: Yes. $14.67. ... The current security staff will go as the contract is ended. It’s only one full-time person. ... I can look into a current employee moving to a job with the new company. ... “We exist to serve. ... Thank you for your time.”

7:58: Public works is next. Here‘s the report. Several public works employees are in the gallery. John Prokop (pictured), the director is sitting next to Smuts, along with Pierre Barbour, the department’s chief fiscal officer.

Smuts: The department has shrunk from 167 employees in 2001-2002 to a proposed 118 in the coming fiscal year. ... Spending has dropped from a peak in 2007. That has to do with trash collection—improvements on “control” for trash, among other things. ... The largest chunk of non-personnel spending goes to paying to dispose of trash. ... There’s been a big effort to make cuts not on the front line. ... An electronic permit system is being rolled out in DPW as we speak. ... We hear complaints from people about how to report problems. The challenge on our end is that we have several different channels for complaints coming into us. We have duplicative to-do sheets and things fall through the cracks. And triage is hard. We’ve connected our system with SeeClickFix. This works for people who have access to the internet or a smartphone. We’re integrating SeeClickFix with CityWorks, the city’s system. What we’re doing on top of that is training all staff and adding a staff position to “funnel everything into SeeClickFix.” ... With a couple tweaks, we’ll have it so when an issue is closed out, it will send an email to the person who answered the phone to tell them to call the person who initially phoned in the complaint. ... We have a lot of issues we need to work out to have this not drop people, lose stuff in the cracks. A lot of cities spent millions on a 311 system. We’re essentially getting the same system without any cost. ... That’s something we’re going to be working on a lot in the coming months. ... “This is something I’m really excited about and really personally invested in.”

8:13: Smuts: We’ve had a tremendous drop in the amount of trash we’ve thrown out since ‘05-‘06. The reasons for that decline are several things, most recently changes in recycling. Some of it’s the economy. A big part of it is bulk trash. $434,000 in savings is from changes in bulk trash: You have to prove that you’re a resident, not an out-of-town landlord. We had management companies that were notorious for abusing the service. The other part of the reduction was beginning to charge for the service.

Prokop: ... One inconvenience is that we don’t take cash. I don’t want my guys handling cash.

Perez asks about a constituent of his who has had some trouble with bulk pickup. Prokop promises to look into it. Jackson-Brooks follows up with another question about the specific case.

8:24: Prokop and Smuts say the “bulk of the change” to bulk pick-up has been not from the $50 fee, but from the residency proof.

Castro: Have you done anything to inform the community about the process? Did you make any flyers?

Prokop: Yes.

Castro: There has to be a better way to inform the community.

Prokop: I’d be happy to talk to you about how to do that. With recycling, some people aren’t even looking at the packets attached to the new Toters we rolled out.

Perez: About illegal dumping…

Prokop: There’s probably 15 locations citywide where we see illegal dumping. They’re somewhat isolated, places where it’s easy to offload.

Hausladen: $87.50 is your bulk cost?

Prokop: Someone calls us up and arranges pickup and then everyone nearby starts piling on. We’ve asked people to call the police and just open a case number so we can go after the people who are dumping on. ... “I don’t mind the pickers.” It’s the free-loaders that are the problem.

Hausladen: Bulk trash is such an infrequent need in someone’s life that no marketing campaign will work.

Smuts: One thing that may help is an FAQ function we’re hoping to implement. Any “live body” you reach will be able to give you accurate information. That’s versus now, where you might get transferred to someone who has your answer, and hit voicemail.

8:33: Castro: Where are these illegal dumping spots?

Prokop names a couple of streets. He says: We can give you a list.

Castro asks about dropping off versus picking up.

Prokop: The transfer station is open Monday through Friday. The fee is $85.50 per ton for construction materials.

Perez: Utility cuts. There are so much utility cuts. [This refers to when utility companies cut through the pavement to do work.]

Prokop: We meet monthly with utility companies. What the ordinance calls for is a temporary patch after work is done. The problem is that if it’s not done correctly, it starts to sag. We then get them back within 48 hours, or else fix it ourselves and bill them. You can imagine how hard it is to deal with all of this, to make sure they are doing what they say they are going to do. ... When people call us or SeeClickFix, we have a guy who stays on top of the utility work and looks up who was working where, when.

Perez: This is a problem we’ve had for a long, long time.

Prokop: “We have about 60 holes put in our streets every day.” Some companies fix the streets better than others. Ideally, someone from public works would be there to watch them patching. They would be prohibited from closing the whole until a DPW staffer was on scene. But 60 a day? We can’t be everywhere. ...

Smuts: A second issue is that, let’s be honest, the city has not been completely consistent in the past. Some utility companies pay us to do the repairs and we’ve not been consistent in either doing that work or catching companies that aren’t doing it well.

Prokop: Anybody who has a location can email it to me, or Rob [____], the guy in DPW who oversees this. He can look it up and see which utility company is responsible.

Hausladen: How much are we back-charging them? More than 100 percent?

Prokop: They put the money up front. ...

8:45: Smuts: I have four other DPW points. The first is recycling. “We’ve seen a massive increase in every day route.” The biggest percentage increase is Wednesday, in the Hill. Savings total $477,000. ... The non-compliance rate has been whittled down to about 150 people a week, concentrated in the Hill and a section of Newhallville. ... We hired Youth At Work to knock on every door. They didn’t reach everyone.

Prokop says he could get a list of non-compliant addresses for each ward.

Smuts: I’ve been working with Alderman Perez on a couple tweaks for recycling. We’re about to come to you with some proposals on how to do this better. Plastic bags can’t be recycled. We can have a little bit of contamination. Seven percent. ... This was a big change for everybody. We’ve done a lot to get it from 4,500 to 150 per week. We come back for non-compliant bins in three days. ... We’re not going start fining people before we have a public discussion about it.

Ernie: We’ve got problems in my ward. We’re going to go door to door and talk to people about what they need to do.

Smuts: That is “much, much, much appreciated.”

Perez: We’re dealing with the hard-core. “And the hard-core need to be treated differently.”

Prokop: We have the ability to fine right now. We’ve been looking to give some leniency. If you feel it’s time, we can start fining.

Clyburn: Some families have too much garbage for the little brown Toters.

Smuts: If you come to DPW and say, big family, kids in diapers ... we can give you the extra brown bin. “But we need to make sure you are recycling and that it’s not just an excuse to not be recycling.”

Prokop: If you’re saying to me that these people are hard-core, I can start handing out $250 fines. But I want to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Smuts: We very much want to be coordinated with this body.

Prokop: If you tell me someone should be fined, I’ll take care of that. But I don’t want to do it across the board if people are uncomfortable about that.

Hausladen: There are “master recycler” volunteers who worked on an education effort.

Smuts: There are 34,000 households, a lot of people with different schedules. We did miss people. We need to keep the education going.

8:58: Castro: Landlords should be educating tenants. Information should be sent with tax bills.

Prokop: The landlord can indicate in lease the recycling regulations.

Smuts: We are allowed to put some inserts into the tax bill and we have done that in the past. We can look at that.

Jackson-Brooks: The landlord is the one who’s going to get the fine. And I can’t evict the tenant.

Smuts: This is why we want to have a conversation about this. We really want your input before we start doing this.

Santiago: What if people don’t pay?

Prokop: You can put a lien on the property. Landlords have security deposits.

9:03 p.m.Smuts: Street-sweeping is another big issue. We tried some changes to reduce the impact on residents. We started posting paper signs in 2008. We’ve reduced the number of tows from 20,000 in 2006, 10,000 in 2007, to about 5,000. ...

Morrison: I’m all about relationships. I don’t see consistency in my neighborhood with the staff.

Prokop: It’s driven by the contract and who’s qualified to drive sweepers.

Morrison: So is the city training staff?

Prokop: Anyone can get the training, but they are permanent positions. So only five people will be driving the sweepers, unless one of them is a sick and we can bump someone else up for the day to the position.

Morrison: So how can we balance this out?

Prokop: At the beginning of April, we’re sweeping and paving, and patching potholes. So we can’t devote everyone to sweeping.

Morrison: But you’re saying only specific people can do specific things. It seems like we need more people who can do that.

Prokop: But again, anyone can train but only five people per day can do it.

Smuts: The focus is making the best use of the resources you have before asking for more money. ... In the past people have complained about all the towing associated with street sweeping, calling it a racket. We’ve tried to minimize tows. You try to strike the appropriate balance. We’d prefer to do that rather than ask for more money. ... DPW has been becoming more “nimble.” Of course it would be easier if we had more money and more resources.

Morrison: Dixwell seems to be “last on the totem pole” when it comes to plowing.

Smuts: In 2011, everyone felt that way. In 2012, it was different story.

Morrison: The plower who did Dixwell did a good job. ...

Smuts: The employees of DPW have bought into figuring out how they can do more for people.

9:16: Smuts: Bridgetending—we’ve tried to save some money there. [He’s going fast now because it’s getting late.] Let’s skip over sidewalks for now. The last thing I want to focus on is the eviction process and the eviction warehouse. The new contract is not just square footage, but management of the warehouse and waste disposal. The old contract had not been changed for 18 years.No increase since 1993. Read more about the eviction warehouse cost here.

Smuts: Lastly, I’m really proud of what’s happening in the garage. We’ve started bidding out the work. So Park can go to a private company or to DPW for auto repair. We’ve won the contract from Housing Authority and Parking Authority because we’ve been doing such a good job. Board of Ed, we didn’t get the contract there, but their contract went from $83 to $50 an hour because the bidder they were working with had to lower the bid to compete with DPW.

Elicker: It seemed to me that a lot of the eviction warehouse “cubbies” were empty.

Prokop: We average about 18 evictions per week. After an auction takes place, all the material is taken off-site. I monitor to make sure we don’t have wasted space. We house material for five other departments, including police and libraries. You may have seen it at its bare bones. There are 100 10-foot by 11-foot bins.

Smuts: Prokop was working without a deputy. He was hired away by another town, which offered a $100,000 increase.

9:24: DPW is finally done. East Rock Tower is next. Pugh is back. She sasy: East Rock tower is the telecommunications tower atop East Rock. It’s used by a variety of organizations, including the FBI and a couple of TV stations. All these groups pay annually together about $100,000 in revenue, spending between $20,000 and $30,000 each year. We’re building a fund to pay for replacing it.

Elicker: What’s the point, if it all just goes to replacing the tower?

Smuts: It’s critical for police and fire communications.

9:27: Clayton Northgraves and George Peak [?], of the emergency communications department sit to speak.

Smuts begins working off of this report. He says: 97 percent of 911 calls are answered within 10 seconds. ... The department was recently created, consolidating two centers that had been in two different rooms. It was also “civilianized.” It used to have sergeants overseeing it. ... A challenge is being flooded with calls, now that everyone has a cell phone. You need to answer and process all the 911 calls. There’s a push to regionalize and that’s driven by a desire to have enough people to handle the spikes. ... Three challenges. First, volume of calls. We get about 1,000 more calls on a street sweeping week. Only 32 percent are actually calls for service. Fifteen percent are requests to transfer to police or general police questions. We’re considering an “auto-attendant” to cull out the non-emergency calls, to transfer them automatically. We haven’t started it yet. Even if it’s very easy to get out the auto-attendant, a lot of people won’t like that. I’d like some feedback. This is an opportunity to take out a quarter of the calls. ... We could also try it out during spikes in calls. That’s what I think I’m going to recommend. And then ask all of you to let us know what your constituents say.

Hausladen: I think it’s a great idea.

Perez: I think you should do it as a trial. People pay their taxes and expect a service.

Jackson-Brooks: The robo things I have a real problem with.

Smuts: The other thing we can do is, during times when there’s a spike we can turn it on.

George: We’re looking for help, because someone is tying up the line with something that’s not important while someone else is having a heart attack.

Smuts: Most of the extraneous calls occur during business hours. ... We’ll start small and see what the feedback is. ... A second thing we’re looking at is voicemails for the officers. We don’t want to put this in and just have the voice mailboxes fill up. Right now it’s all handwritten messages. We’d like a system where you call for an officer, you’re transferred to their voicemail box. An email is sent to the officer to check his or her messages. And the officer’s supervisor is emailed if the officer hasn’t check the messages. We’re not quite ready to roll that out, but it’s another thing we’re looking into.  ... On the 911 improvements, “we’re going very slow, because we want to get it right.” ... The voice mail thing will become much more relevant as the walking beats get established. People will start calling their neighborhood cop with concerns.

Morrison: So your walking beat officers don’t have city cell phones?

Smuts: They have their own cell phones, and if they give out their number, they’re giving out their private number.

9:45: Smuts: Customer service is a big deal…

Northgraves: We’re looking at internal and external customer service (the police and the public). We’ll have a new quality control program looking at that within the next two weeks.

Smuts: I’ve heard that a lot of people have complaints about improper or rude handling of non-emergency calls. But we only got 10 complaints actually coming into us. It’s easy to correct and investigate if we hear about it. But we need to know. If you hear about any incident let us know.

Northgraves: We literally get thousands of calls a day. A time and date of call is critical for investigating.

Smuts: Long-term cost-control—we pay more for CMED (Central Emergency Medical Dispatch) services than our peers. We’re looking at ways to reduce that.

9:51 p.m.

Parks, Recreation, and Trees is next. Director Bob Levine (pictured) sits at the conference table along with Deputy Director Christy Hass and Tom Verderame, who handles finance for the department.

Smuts: In 2001 there were 109 employees. This year there are 59. A 40 percent decrease. [He’s working off this report now. ] The biggest reductions in staffing have been in administration and recreation.

Levine: There’s one recreation supervisor remaining.

Smuts: We’ve found a way of stretching the resources we have. ... Parks oversees 2,275 acres and 142 parks, plus a variety of city ball fields, and tennis courts, even those connected to a high school.

Perez: Why wouldn’t a school custodian do that?

Levine: We’ve always done this.

Smuts: Recreation has two parts: Recreation and outdoor adventure. Community recreation served 313,370 participants in FY 2010. Outdoor adventure: 66,700. ... We’ve eliminated a backlog in tree removal. There has been a large increase in tree trimming requests. That may be due partly to SeeClickFix and the new ease of reporting that it provides to people. ... Tree-planting: We’re hoping to hold the line and replace as many trees as come down. The budget allows for planting 500 trees. Many more trees than usual came down in 2011.

...

10:12: Conversation turns to tree trimming, tree planting, tree roots. ... Different trees for different locations. ...

10:18: Perez: Why are we spending $25,000 to fix the Green and not the Proprietors, post-Occupy?

Smuts: The Proprietors are going to pay for two-thirds of the cost. Through donations, we’ve reduced the amount we’re liable for to about $4,000.

Levine: For the last 50 to 100, years, the parks department does the maintenance.

Perez: Is that in writing?

Levine: I don’t know.

Perez: Shouldn’t we start formalizing this?

Levine: Yes.

Smuts: The mayor has asked corp counsel to being that formalizing.

10:21: Elicker asks about Hyde school and its proposed new home at Hillhouse High. Smuts says he should save the question for Monday when the Board of Ed comes in. He asks about playing fields and synthetic surfaces for playing fields. [I missed it when they said where they’re talking about putting one in.]

Levine: Synthetic fields last eight to 14 years.

Hausladen: The Cincinnati Bengals are replacing theirs after six.

Levine: “Every other city is doing it; it’s definitely the right way to do.”

Elicker: We should look at what costs will be reduced and what revenues might increase with a synthetic field.

10:27:On to the Ailing Memorial Golf Course enterprise fund. Tom Verderame is talking.  For next year, the estimate is over $900,000 in revenue for over $650,000 in expenses.

Next, the Light House Point carousel fund. Historically every Friday and Saturday night are booked for events from April to September. We anticipate a carryover of over $200,000 after the 2013 season.

The Walker skating rink. It has been privately managed since 2005. The roof needs repair. ...

No further questions.

10:33: The fire department is next. Chief Grant and Assistant Chief Egan (pictured, right to left) sit.

Smuts, on to a new report, says: The current fiscal year has been a decrease in expenditures, even as overtime has gone up a bit. We’ve had a lot of retirements. ... This chart shows where vacancies are. We need to do promotional tests. ... The next slide shows when the current staff was hired. We had a big spike in 1995. No one currently working was hired in the seven years prior. We have 43 people with over 20 years of service.

Perez has a question about structure fires.

Grant: Our major, multiple alarm fires have remained steady.

He outlines new capital spending. [Going too fast for me to catch just what the department is buying.]

Grant: We replace an engine every 10 years. We’re beyond that with three engines right now. They’ll need to be replaced within the next year or two.

Smuts: You start to see more costs for repairs.

Grant: The performance still meets all standards. I have no concerns about the safety of the equipment.

Perez asks about positions eliminated, filled.

Egan: The position that was proposed in the original budget —there’s a tech amendment that will be submitted. That money will be eliminated and restored to position 300, an investigatory. It’s an even swap.

Elicker: I have Stratton’s letter. He says New Haven has more firefighters per capita than any other city in America…

Grant: I’m not familiar with the letter.

Elicker: But does New Haven have more firefighters per capita?

Grant: No.

Smuts: Not compared to comparable cities.

Grant: A study two years ago found we have just the right amount of staff and equipment. ... It’s based on response time and other factors. ... We’ll get the ISO report for you.

Smuts: “It’s very technical. So have fun with it.”

Perez asks about paramedics.

Grant: We have enough to cover shifts and medications. We have 18 right now. We need two on a shift.

Egan: We’ll be looking to hire more.

Morrison: I wanted to say thank you to the chief for supporting the new safety prevention program for the seniors.

10:49: Hausladen: Are there any initiatives to cut down on the “super users” of emergency services? Billing back of emergency services?

Grant: When we has a staffer that rides with the paramedic service in the ambulance to the hospital, we bill the service.

Smuts: We also bill for heavy rescue and car accidents. The car insurance—we can get some recovery, and some commercial buildings.

Hausladen: What about super-users?

Smuts: Often they’re folks without insurance.

10:53: Jackson-Brooks: “And the final act of the evening is our engineer!”

City Engineer Dick Miller sits. Smuts turns to this report.

Smuts: Engineering has taken on responsibility of many city buildings. The department also covers bridges.

Miller: Brookside Bridge, the only access to the eponymous West Rock development, is in rough shape. We’ll need about a million dollars to replace that bridge. The housing authority will be contributing money too. The authority only authorized $400,000.

Perez: Why can’t they authorize more?

Smuts: This is a bridge for a public street.

Jackson-Brooks: Who uses the bridge?

Miller: Everybody.

Jackson-Brooks: I go there every Sunday. I’ve never gone over a bridge.

Miller: You may not notice it but it’s there.

Perez: “I’ll drive you there right now, if it gets you moving.”

Miller: “The City of New Haven has 49 bridges. That’s extraordinary.” They go over rivers and tunnels, etc. “That connects us.” But they deteriorate. “And they’re not cheap to repair.”

Smuts: The city has a grading system of 1 to 9, 1 being the worst. The city has no 1-level bridges. The only 2, the State Street bridge, is being replaced. We have three 4s and seven 5s.

Miller: To replace the Grand Avenue bridge, a moving bridge, will take $23 to $25 million. ... The paint is starting to peel on the Chapel Street bridge. That’ll be $600,000 or $700,000. ... If you take the tunnel under Gateway College you’ll see that Church, George, and Crown Streets are all, really, bridges. ... Another project: State Street over by the Knights of Columbus Museum—there’s a bridge that needs work. But those are “out-years” projects. We’re watching them like teeth that might be developing a cavity.

Jackson-Brooks: What’s the bottom line?

Miller: It’s a lot of money. Millions of dollars.

Smuts: $10.2 million over five years. That’s the city’s share. We’re pursuing $10 million from the state and $15 million from the federal government. ... Roads: Public works is responsible for the surface; engineering for the design. ... That includes “Complete Streets.”

Miller: We had a pre-construction meeting to repave Dixwell, Davenport, and Grand Avenue. That’s about $3 million worth of paving and adjustments, from the federal government.

Smuts: We have a 20 percent local match. And we’ll be repairing sidewalks.

11:13: Hausladen: How are we following up with Complete Streets request forms. I submitted one a year ago, and haven’t heard anything.

Miller: There are a lot of them. What I need to do is gather data and then meet with residents. There are some that are easy and inexpensive, other much more complicated. I do have a list, it is online.

Smuts: We will put the tracking and the milestones on line.

Hausladen: The Complete Streets manual is one of the best things the city has produced. A lot of the stuff in there is big ticket items. Could we have an appendix for temporary fixes?

Miller: One thing people may not realize—speed humps. If I put that in front of your house and utility trucks go over it and go “ba-boom,” you can’t sleep. We had to take some out after they were put in at the request of neighbors. Something like Whitney Avenue requires a very detailed survey and you have so much utility stuff under there. ...

Smuts: Maybe we can have a “sit-down” with whoever wants to talk about that. ... Drainage. We’re responsible for the stormwater portion.

[Boy, it’s late. We’re in the fifth hour of this hearing. There are a lot of bleary eyes around the room.]

Smuts: Flooding issues. Hazard mitigation. Hurricane Irene—saving houses. ... The “last slide of the night”: other engineering functions. Street lighting: If your light is out get the pole number and get it in to us. ... LED technology could save the city money. “That’s something we’ll be working on this year.”

Miller: LED technology is starting to come down in price. ...

Smuts: We added a staff position: Project Manager. That’s because we’d been contracting out on design services. The new person will also help connecting with small local contractors. ... The sidewalk budget will double this year. We’ll talk more about that on Monday. “And so, with that, I’m done.”

11:25:Meeting adjourned!

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posted by: Curious on April 26, 2012  11:38am

Looks like that $100,000 that DeStefano decided to spend on cuddling up to Occupy New Haven could have paid for a lot of other services.