A new 311 hotline is making its way to Chatham-Kent.
The universal non-emergency phone number is used across North America and allows residents to call to get information on municipal services, make complaints or report problems such as road damage. Currently, over a dozen cities in Canada use it including Windsor, Toronto and Waterloo.
The idea for implementing 311 in the municipality comes after Councillor Karen Kirkwood-Whyte put forward a motion in March 2019 with the hopes of making it simpler for citizens to access municipal staff.
As of right now, residents in Chatham-Kent have to dial 519-360-1998 to connect to the municipality. The number has been around since amalgamation in 1998 and gets around 400 calls a day.
Kirkwood-Whyte's original motion requested that bringing in 311 only moves forward if it costs no more than $5,000. A May 2019 staff report indicated that making the change would not be cost-prohibitive.
Because Chatham-Kent’s telephone boundaries extend into six neighbouring municipalities, written consent had to be given from all surrounding municipalities before CK could proceed with routing in 311 services.
In the latest report, going before council Monday night, it's revealed that Chatham-Kent recently received the final consent from neighbouring jurisdictions. As a result, administration has released the official 311 Implementation Notice as required by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission to notify all telephone service providers to begin programming of 311 within the Bell Canada exchange boundaries in Chatham-Kent.
"Each telephone service provider will complete the programming respectively and upon completion, 311 with the independent telephone service providers will immediately be “live” for callers within Chatham-Kent," states the report. "This stage is considered to be the “soft launch” for the purpose of piloting and testing with our new services and staff adaptation. The telephone service providers request approximately six months to complete the programming function."
As of right now, the official "go-live" date for CK311 is October 7, 2020.
The new 311 number will not replace the current number, but rather, act as an additional option for anyone looking to get in touch with the municipality’s customer service line. The hours of operation would remain the same and current options for after-hour emergencies would also continue.
"The 311 call service is being implemented in-line with our mission and will support our customer service strategies of one-contact access to obtain information and services, as corporate representation," reads the staff report. "The well-established enhanced service levels, experienced contact centre team, progressive service delivery and technological infrastructure all provide for seamless implementation of 311 in Chatham-Kent. The implementation of 311 will further improve the simplicity and accessibility to municipal services/information for residents, businesses and visitors of Chatham-Kent."
Municipal staff are currently working on the required public education strategies to inform the community of the purpose of 311 and to promote it.