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Newton Officials Showcase 311, Performance Management Tools with New City Hall Display

A new display in the City Hall rotunda offers a glimpse at how some departments are doing, and what the city is doing to keep track of their progress.

Mayor Setti Warren and members of his staff unveiled a new display at City Hall last week highlighting efforts to save money and improve performance across all city departments. 

The new display, which is located in the City Hall rotunda, showcases the Newton's CitiStat performance management system as well as its 311 reporting tool, two initiatives that have saved the city millions of dollars, according to Chief Financial Officer Maureen Lemieux.

"We have a terrific team here at City Hall that has made this happen," Mayor Setti Warren said at the Sept. 27 press conference. "We will continue to work on improving our metrics and to be as efficient as we can."

As residents walk in to City Hall, they are now greeted by a number of charts, graphs and "score cards" that show the monthly performance of several City Hall departments including the Police Department, Fire Department and Public Works Department.

The score cards are part of Newton's CitiStat program, which was launched in spring 2011. Each city department has a score card that lists areas of responsibility on which the department is measured. Those score cards are then updated on a monthly basis with information on performance and progress. 

The August 2012 score card for the Newton Police Department, for example, lists improvements in the area of burglaries and larcenies compared to the numbers in August 2011, Lemieux noted. However, it shows that the department needs to step up its work in preventing accidents involving cars vs. pedestrians and cars vs. bicycles. 

The performance management tool not only offers accountability for City Hall departments, it also helps figure out where the budget should focus for the following year and allows the city to spend money efficiently, Lemieux said.

"When we put together the budget this year, not only did we not lay off any employees, we were able to add staff in key areas where we needed additional help," Lemieux said. "In this budget, we made sure we applied financial and personnel resources to those values that are most important to us."

In addition to the performance management charts and graphs, the new City Hall display includes three computer stations where residents can log in to submit a request to the city's 311 system. 

And if residents want to make a 311 request in person, the city's customer service desk has also relocated to the front entry area.

The 311 reporting system and online tool allows residents to make requests for work around the city by filling out a form online or calling "311" from a Newton landline. Residents can inquire about anything from a broken crosswalk signal to potholes to a bees nest at a local park.

After a request is made, residents receive a confirmation e-mail along with the estimated turnaround time and tracking number. That tracking number can later be plugged into the site to see whether the request has been processed or completed.

According to Citizens Assistance Officer Aaron Goldman, almost 60,000 requests have been submitted since the 311 system was launched in December 2010. Roughly 17,000 of those requests were submitted by residents, Goldman said. 

The most common 311 request, Goldman said, are trash- and recycling-related questions.

Since the 311 system was launched, Goldman says the response from the city departments has been "very positive," as the program has "streamlined" the process of receiving and delegating tasks in the city. Over the last 20 months, the departments have managed to finish 98-99 percent of the 311 tasks within the estimated completion time, Goldman said (completion time varies depending on the task). 

In the future, the city is looking at the possibility of creating a 311 app for smartphones that would be similar to the Citizen's Connect app in Boston, Lemieux said. This app would allow to take a picture of something in the city, such as a pothole, and submit at 311 request with an exact GIS location. 

"When you're able to get work done faster and able...to do more work because things are done online, it's not only more efficient it also saves resources and expenditures," Warren said off the 311 system. 

Warren said the new 311/performance management display will stay up in City Hall over the course of the next year and the score cards will be updated to reflect the progress of each department. Residents can also view the scorecards online

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