Budget leaves 311 line on hold 

The City’s informational and complaint hot line set up by Mayor Gavin Newsom could see its operational hours cut to help close the budget deficit.

As The City faces a second consecutive year of having to close a budget deficit in excess of $500 million, the 4-year-old 24-hour, seven-day-a-week 311 city hot line may suffer.

The extent the 311 service is affected by cuts will ultimately depend on the Board of Supervisors, which will review and make changes to Newsom’s proposed city budget. The mayor has to submit that proposal by June 1 for the board to review.

On Wednesday, members of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, including Newsom ally Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, said they want cuts made to the 311 service. The firm budget stance comes as The City has to take more from its services and lay off city workers, and as Muni is looking at a 10 percent service reduction.

“We have to find the cost savings,” said Supervisor John Avalos, chairman of the committee.

The 311 call center costs about $11 million this fiscal year, with $6 million from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the remainder shared among other city departments, according to City Administrator Ed Lee. It employs about 68 customer service reps and four managers, and 80 percent of the calls are answered within 60 seconds, Lee said.

Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said the mayor understands “every department will have to have reductions. However, with 8 million phone calls from San Franciscans since it started, it’s a valuable public service and it is a priority of the mayor to protect.”

The call center, located at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue, was inspired by similar operations in New York City and Chicago. People call the line for Muni information or to log complaints about potholes and graffiti, among others.

How cuts to the service would impact 311 remains unclear. Options include eliminating the service during the low call volume hours or contracting out for a call service during the midnight to 5 a.m. period, although supervisors have made it clear they would not support contracting out for services.

“I know 311 will take its fair share of cuts. I didn’t hear anybody say eliminate 311 today. That’s the good news,” Lee said. “And I think it’s good for the public.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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