GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Grand Rapids residents are one step closer to dialing a three-digit number for city services.
On a 6-1 vote, Grand Rapids City Commissioners approved a $336,000 check for a citywide 311 system. The money comes from the city's Transformation Fund, established by the taxpayer-approved 2010 income tax increase.
The 311 would allow residents to call one number with questions for city hall. Currently, a caller has to figure out which of the over 200 city hall phone numbers to call for service. The 311 systems could also extend access to city employees from 9 to 12 hours.
Consolidation of customer service could save money.
A study for the city suggests about 30 positions now handle those calls. As many as 10 positions -- and possibly more -- could be eliminated through the 311 system.
The estimated annual savings to the general fund budget after two years of operation is about $105,000. Larger savings could be found in the city's fee-supported operations, like the water and sewer department.
But those savings are a calculated guess at this point.
The lone no vote, First Ward Commissioners Walt Gutowski, questioned the timing of the implementation.
"Would it make more sense to do this when the economy does turn around?" asked Gutowski.
But Mayor George Heartwell and others said the timing is right, especially considering the special income tax ends in 2015 and is a good example of what the city is trying to accomplish with transformation efforts.
"If this didn't save a nickel, it would be a good thing," Heartwell said.
Third Ward Commissioner James White questioned how the price tag for 311 system can be sold to residents at a time when talks of cutting public safety personnel are also on the table.
A recent consultants report studying consolidation and other cost cutting efforts is suggesting a number of personnel cuts in the fire and police department.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom said cuts in those areas are inevitable. But he defended the 311 idea as a cost saver for the future.
Sundstrom admits the expected $105,000 a year to the general fund budget only amounts to one police officer or firefighter a year.
"But that's one more we get to keep."
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