311: Now one number to call for all city services

The city of Minneapolis is launching a new &#8220311” information line in January - a single point of contact for people seeking city information and services.

The call center, staffed with 26 &#8220customer service” agents, will start answering phone calls Jan. 4. The agents will work weekdays, 7 a.m.-11 p.m., said Steven Bosacker, the city's director of results management.

City departments are inundated with thousands of calls a day from residents with questions and specific requests for services.

&#8220Essentially, it takes away most of the phone numbers in the phone book and makes it terribly easy for residents to remember a single number - 311,” Bosacker said.

City officials are stressing that residents will still have 911 for emergency calls.

Calls about potholes, snow issues and other things that fall under the domain of the city's Public Works department are expected to make up most of the 311 calls.

The $2.8 million operating budget for the 311 call center, which will be headquartered at the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct in South Minneapolis, has been funded by money transferred from 16 different city departments, making it &#8220budget neutral,” Bosacker said.

It cost $6.2 million to set up the center.

&#8220It's a sizeable investment and commitment by the city,” he said.

Callers will be assigned a tracking number when they call seeking a particular city service, a system designed to make the city more accountable.

The city will also be able to analyze call patterns and identify problem areas.

City officials will launch a public information campaign early this month to get the word out about 311. Residents will get information about the line in utility bill inserts and other mailers.

Minneapolis is the first city in Minnesota to launch a 311-info line. Several cities across the country have adopted similar models. In 1996, the federal government set aside the number for local governments for information lines.

Bosacker said other cities around the country have had a lot of success in encouraging citizens to use 311.

&#8220It makes it so generally accessible and so easy,” Bosacker said. &#8220It's no longer that you have to have that navigation of our system on your shoulders - we do that, and the citizen only has to call a single number.”