With a new online tracking system in place, the parks department is saving more trees—by using less paper.
The city has gone mostly paperless when it comes to receiving, processing, and tracking trimming and removal requests for dealing with New Haven’s 52,000 trees. It’s done so with the help of SeeClickFix, the community problem-solving website.
Up until Sept. 13, the parks department had been using a system of paper slips and Excel spreadsheets to track all its tree-trimming and removal jobs. All of those slips and spreadsheets have been consolidated into the SeeClickFix database, said Rob Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer. The city put in all current tree-trimming requests, as well as completed requests going back to March 2011, he said.
Staff answering phones at the parks department and in Smuts’ office have been trained to input incoming tree-trimming requests right into SeeClickFix. People can then track the requests on the website, ward by ward: Orange dots represent open requests, green dots are acknowledged requests, and blue or gray dots are completed jobs.
When a job is completed, the person who logged the complaint will get an email. If the complaint came in only by phone, and the caller didn’t leave an email address, the staffer who took the call will get an email with the caller’s phone number. The staffer can then call that person back and tell them the job is done.
“We’ve never had the manpower to tell anyone what we’ve done,” said Christy Hass, deputy director at the parks department. With the new system, that feedback is now automatic, which creates a better sense of “connection to the community,” Hass said.
Smuts is working to implement the system citywide, so that neighbors can call any city staffer and have their complaint inputted directly into SeeClickFix. The parks department is the first to go live with the new protocol.
After the parks department receives a tree-trimming request, Fernando Lage, a state-licensed arborist working for the city, heads out to inspect the tree. He assigns it to one of seven categories: three priorities each of trimming or removal, or as a stump.
Thursday morning found Lage on Mansion Street in Morris Cove. Neighbors there have been worried about an ash tree that’s listing dangerously into the street.
David Suarez, who lives nearby, said he had posted the issue on SeeClickFix, after another tree that had been leaning fell on his house during Tropical Storm Irene, causing $17,500 worth of damage.
“We’re very worried. We don’t know which way the tree is going to fall,” Suarez said. The tree that fell on their house had been leaning the other way, said Suarez’s mom, Ruth.
“It does have a decent lean to it,” said Lage. He noticed the tree is “encroaching in the right of way,” an obvious problem for street sweeping and plowing.
“I’ve been trying to get that tree taken down for four or five years,” said Michele DeMusis (at right in photo), emerging from her nearby house. She said two people have lost their side-view car mirrors while trying to park under the tree without realizing how much it leans into the street. “You can’t park under it.”
If the tree falls, it’ll take out at least one house in whichever direction it goes, said DeMusis.
“I’m going to post it for removal,” said Lage.
He reached into his truck and pulled out a notice of the city’s intent to remove the tree. Inside the truck was a laptop, open to SeeClickFix and ready for Lage to record his inspection of the tree. Lage said the new system is much more efficient than the old protocol of spreadsheets and “stickies” adhesive notes.
“It’s cutting down a lot on the office work,” Lage said. “Before this, I had to do it all on my own.” Lage said he would be answering the phones, filing all the requests, making out the work orders, compiling all the monthly data.
“It’ll definitely help out a lot,” he said. “We had tons and tons of papers. We’re going to save trees just by switching over to this.”