The City of Asheville is excited to announce the launch of the Asheville App, an easy-to-use online tool that allows users to notify the city about issues like water line leaks, potholes, or illegal dumping that need the city’s attention via smart phone or computer, then track the results.
“This is the kind of technology that really enhances connectivity in the city,” says Project Manager Eric LaRue. “We are always exploring ways to make it easy and efficient for people to interact with city government.”
Here’s how it works: Asheville App users who spot a problem submit a service request at www.ashevillenc.gov/ashevilleapp or on their smart phone using the downloadable app. Users can submit their location and even a picture of the problem spot. The Asheville App then sends the service request to the relevant city department personnel so they can quickly resolve the issue. A tracking tool allows users to monitor progress on the repair, and City employees can even communicate directly with users if they need further information. The app notifies the resident when the repair request has been completed.
The City of Asheville strives to provide excellent service in a timely and efficient manner, and the Asheville App will play an important role in fulfilling that goal.
“The ease of use of the Asheville App will not only give people more ways to relay information to us, it will also streamline our ability to respond to customer service needs,” says Customer Services Division Superintendent Florie Presnell.
The City of Asheville enlisted the services of PublicStuff (www.publicstuff.com), an innovative CRM software company, to create the app and digital communications solution. “We are excited to add Asheville to the PublicStuff family” Founder and CEO of PublicStuff Lily Liu said. “Asheville is a city with a rich cultural heritage and PublicStuff aims to work to provide an easy way for residents to stay in touch with their local government.”
The City of Asheville Customer Service Division receives thousands of calls in a month. It’s not unusual for a customer service representative to field 100 calls in a day. Though Customer Services is part of the Water Resources Department and primarily handles water billing questions and payments, the division fields calls about everything from potholes to streetlights to bus service.
Customer Service Representative Linette Sieben was named Water Resources Employee of the Year
“We assist with calls all day long and try to help everybody that calls in,” says Customer Service Representative Linette Sieben.
So when Sieben got a call last September from a woman who was having trouble breathing, she began to suspect that something was wrong. “I asked her if she had been running to the phone and she said ‘No’ and that she didn’t know why she was out of breath,” Sieben says.
The woman had called to pay her water bill, but as the conversation progressed, her breathing grew more labored and eventually, she no longer responded to Sieben’s questions.
Sieben called the police. Since she had the woman’s address on her water account, police were able to respond and likely prevented a tragedy. Police found her unresponsive and she was transported to the hospital. When the woman called back in a few days, she told another customer service representative that Sieben’s quick action saved her life.
In February, Sieben was named Water Resources Employee of the Year and presented with a plaque in appreciation of her initiative.
“We are very proud of the attitude and service delivery of all of our Customer Service staff,” says Water Services Director Steve Shoaf. “Linette’s intervention exemplifies the level of service we all strive to achieve. She is deserving of this special recognition.”
The City of Asheville’s Customer Service Division assists with billing questions at (828) 251-1122. Service representatives are available via telephone from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 8:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Fridays except on holidays. The City of Asheville offers email billing for water customers. Sign up by emailing email@example.com.
Want to cut out one more envelope from your bill basket? Sign up for emailed billing by the City of Asheville Customer Service Division and get your combined services statement sent directly to your inbox.
Since the beginning of September, Customer Services staff have been stuffing notices into combined services statements, which include billing for water, sanitation, recycling and stormwater utility, that inform customers of the ability to sign up for email billing and opt out of a paper statement.
“People have been requesting this for awhile. There’s a lot of interest,” says Customer Services Superintendent Florie Presnell. “We’ve been excited to see the response.”
Since the division was upgraded to the city’s Munis data managing system in 2011, the e-billing option became a possibility, and already several hundred people have opted for email statements since the start of September.
The switch to the Munis system came out of the Business Technology Improvement Project, approved by Asheville City Council in 2009.
Email billing represents a real cost savings to the city, Presnell says. The Customer Service Division sends out roughly 300,000 statements a year to 56,000 water customers. Moving the entire operation to email would save the city thousands in postage alone, not to mention greatly reducing paper usage.
“It is the environmentally friendly thing to do,” Presnell continues. “And customers with email billing will get their bill on the same day it is processed.”
Want to sign up for e-billing? Look for the form in the latest combined utility bill and return it to the enclosed address. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for information about paying your combined service statement online and eliminating paper from billing.
ASHEVILLE – The Development Services Center is continuing its emphasis on providing excellent customer service by seeking regular feedback from the people it serves.
Staff recently issued an online customer service survey to gauge their performance. The goal is to keep doing what customers say is working and to improve in areas that customers felt were lacking.
Development Services is the umbrella name for the development assistance and regulation provided by five city departments: the Building Safety Department, Planning & Development Department, Transportation & Engineering Department, Water Resources Department and the Asheville Fire & Rescue Department.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin, who oversees the Development Services Center, said his staff will continue taking surveys about every other month and that surveys are also being created for inspections and other services.
“We’re establishing a cross-functional team to look at customer service, work flow, and any other identifiable improvement area for recommended changes,” Griffin said. He added that this team will be facilitated by someone outside the development process.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin stands next to a shelf of submitted development plans.
The overall feedback in the first survey, the results of which came back just recently, was positive. The majority of respondents (about 83 percent) came to the center to submit or pick up permits. Of that pool, some 94 percent said they were greeted promptly, and 83 percent said staffers were helpful and polite. Some 66 percent said they were able to meet with a city staff member within 15 minutes of their arrival at the center.
Respondents who met with a Development Services Center Plan Review staff member assessed them very highly: 88 percent said plan reviewers were professional, and 82 percent said reviewers were helpful and polite. Moreover, 94 percent of respondents said staff explained processes to them in a way they could understand.
In response to some respondents’ concerns about sign-in procedures and wait times, Griffin said front counter staff has been reorganized.
“Their additional function is to make sure every customer is signed in, receives service, and is updated when the time is longer than anticipated,” Griffin said.
He added that the center has changed the intake process for certain permit types to allow customers to have information entered into the computer system in a more timely way.
One survey respondent wrote of being impressed by a staff member’s work ethic: “The plan reviewer I met with said he needed to come back into work later that evening to catch up with paperwork. I was surprised that a public employee cared that much. With no pay.”
City of Asheville staff conducted tours of the North Fork Water Treatment Plant in Black Mountain for the Owen Middle School 7th grade class field trip on June 8. Around 130 students toured the plant through an education and outreach program conducted in partnership with RiverLink, a regional nonprofit spearheading the economic and environmental revitalization of the French Broad River. This is the first school field trip tour since 9/11, when Homeland Security was established and public tours at the plant were suspended.
During the tour, led by Sustainability Outreach Specialist Rachel Rogers and RiverLink Education Coordinator Hayley Joyell Smith, students hiked up to the City’s primary water source to see how the water is harvested from the North Fork Reservoir, treated with chemicals such as chlorine to address any pathogens and filtered to remove sediment before being distributed to the 126,000 residents in Asheville and Buncombe County. The City of Asheville processes approximately 15 million gallons of water daily.
“The field trips are a great way to demonstrate the process of providing safe water,” said Director of Water Resources Stephen Shoaf, who helped to initiate the school field trip program. “It is important that citizens understand the city’s role and their relationship to this valuable resource,”
Superintendent of Water Production Leslie Carreiro agreed, saying, “field trips offer a wonderful learning experience. They allow the students to learn where their drinking water comes from, how it is treated and that it takes numerous people with many different skills, education and knowledge to deliver the water to their homes.”
North Fork Treatment plant staff explained to the 7th graders how they use advanced computer systems to monitor the treatment process and ensure the water quality is within high health standards through testing in the state certified lab. They also shared their educational background and the degrees needed for a job in the water treatment field, helping to link career choices and education.
Students also participated in hands-on activities led by RiverLink Education staff, interns and volunteers, including the 3-D Enviroscape watershed model and water quality testing. These activities helped the students to further understand how the protected 22,000 acre North Fork watershed functions to produce high quality and safe drinking water.
Owen Middle School 7th grade science teacher Don Slye thought this was a wonderful opportunity for the students to get out and “actually see first hand the process of water treatment, not only to see it happening but to talk to the people responsible for their clean water. Now they know there is more to it than just turning on the faucet and getting clean water. This will stick with them a lot longer than if we had just seen a video or had a discussion about the water filtration process.”
The City of Asheville and RiverLink hope to provide more education/outreach programs to area schools in the future. Through this partnership, RiverLink would conduct hands-on activities in the school classroom to provide students with important information on watershed functioning and the role of water quality testing. With this information, students would then tour either the North Fork Water Treatment Plant or the Mills River Water Treatment plant to get first hand experience of where their drinking water comes from.
Click here for more information on the City of Asheville’s water treatment and distribution.
Click here for more information on the City’s Sustainability Initiatives.
Wednesday found the Asheville Fire Department conducting trench training at Mountainside Park near Asheville’s Memorial Stadium. In a trench freshly dug by the City of Asheville Water Maintenance division (and refilled after the training was complete), firefighters trained on how to respond to injuries in such a specialized environment, including removing victims and stabilizing trenches in case of collapse.
Photos courtesy of the Asheville Fire Department.
The AFD also instructed other City of Asheville employees from Public Works, Engineering and Water Maintenance on the techniques used in the event of a trench collapse.
The AFD’s Division Chief of Safety & Training Barry Hendren says the training keeps firefighters tuned in to one of a variety of emergency scenarios.
“The trench skills review is one of the several different technical rescue disciplines that AFD is equipped to respond to,” Hendren said.
Parks and Recreation provided the location for the training. In addition to AFD, several other agencies assisted and participated in the training, including Buncombe County Emergency Management, the Enka Fire Department, and the Weaverville Fire Department.
Already this winter, multiple snowstorms have hit Asheville and Western North Carolina, and the City’s Public Works Department has been hard at work to keep roads passable and clear, while the Asheville Police and Fire Departments continue to keep people safe.
The City of Asheville is urging the public to remain safe and cautious throughout inclement winter weather events, and has issued tips for safety at home and on the road.
During and immediately after weather events, drivers are strongly encouraged limit travel until crews have cleared roads. When travel is essential during winter weather, warm coats, clothes, hats, gloves and boots should be worn. Other items to take when traveling include a mobile phone, extra food, water, a flashlight and blankets.
The American Red Cross also advises keeping a full gas tank to prevent the fuel line from freezing, and informing people when you are traveling. If you do get stuck, the Red Cross advises staying with your car, as a vehicle is easier to spot than a person.
The Asheville Fire Department has also issued information about home heating during cold weather, noting that heat sources are the second leading cause of home fires.
Says the AFD:
“Along with the colder temperatures that accompany winter, there is an elevated risk of dying from fire during this season with December, January and February generally being the deadliest months for fires (NFPA). Citizens should be aware of the risks associated with using alternative heating sources such as wood burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces. Improper maintenance is a major cause of fire for these sources.”
Here are safety tips for using alternative heating sources:
• Maintain a 3 foot space around heating sources.
• Only use heating equipment that has a UL label.
• Always use the proper fuel for fuel burning equipment and refuel units outdoors. Be sure area is well vented to avoid CO buildup.
• Be sure heaters are on a sturdy surface and clear from traffic, kids and pets.
• Turn heaters off when leaving the house or going to bed.
• Carbon monoxide poisoning is another danger to consider. The Asheville Fire Department recommends that each home not only has a working smoke alarm, but a carbon monoxide detector as well.
For information on how to be safe with alternate heating sources visit www.nfpa.org.
For information on emergency preparedness, including loss of heat, visit www.ready.gov. For information on heating assistance residents should call 2-1-1, the local community service information line. Click here for information from the City of Asheville Water Resources Department about how to avoid frozen water pipes pipes.
In an organization of more than 1,000 people, speedy and accurate information flow means not only increased efficiency but also real dollars. That’s an underlying theme that emerges when City of Asheville employees talk about the recently launched technology upgrade that provides not only swifter access to data but also easier communication between city departments and city customers.
The Munis system purchased by the City of Asheville from Tyler Technologies grew out of a 2009 commitment by Asheville City Council to fund a Business Technology Improvement Project to replace the organization’s aging mainframe-based system with a state-of-the-art streamlined tech upgrade.
The new system is targeted to business transactions within the city’s financial, human resources, contract management, purchasing and inventory, and utility billing functions. Dramatically eliminating paper forms in favor of digital ones reduces the time spent on each step of a transaction such as a business license application, as well as the time it takes to navigate the approval process. In a summary he wrote for the City of Asheville’s E-News in 2009, Information Technology Services Director Jonathan Feldman noted that experts estimate the switch can save more than $3 in staff time and material costs per form.
“It reduces the staffing needed for these processes, and it reduces redundancy.” Feldman says, adding that more accurate and accessible data means that city departments can close revenue gaps that may have been difficult or impossible to find with a paper-based system.
The system has been deployed in all city departments, with department heads and employees meeting with the IT department and experts from Tyler Technologies to determine how best to apply the software in their departments. In January, the city’s payroll division will join the offices using the system, followed by utility billing in July.
And like the city’s MapAsheville GIS mapping system developed in 2006, the city’s use of the Munis system will continue to evolve as more and more applications for the technology emerge.
“It’s pretty massive,” Feldman says. “It’s not just IT doing this. It’s a huge collaboration. Each department has to take ownership of how it applies to their product.”
Development Services Director Robert Griffin praised the upgrade as a boon for his department, which is in charge of processes like construction permits and business licenses. Griffin says the Munis system cuts down on the time it takes for a business privilege license to be processed, and even sends him emails when there is a form that needs his attention.
“It allows us to be more efficient and more responsive to the outside customer,” he says.
The Asheville Police Department’s recently opened Oakley Resource Center is the result of a series of partnerships and collaborations, all of which, says APD Chief William Hogan, were critical to the project’s success.
The 2,500 square-foot facility provides a satellite station for the APD’s Baker District, which serves north and east Asheville, and officially opened with an Oct. 27 ribbon cutting ceremony attended by residents of the Oakley community, N.C. Representative Patsy Keever, Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Council Member Jan Davis, and City of Asheville employees including a number of APD officers.
Throughout the presentation, Hogan and Bellamy praised the level of cooperation involved in building the new center, from its construction by A-B Tech students to a multi-departmental involvement by City of Asheville staff to the donation of materials by local suppliers.
“The collaboration with A-B Tech carpentry class speaks to a good partnership that is being advanced.” said Mayor Bellamy.
The pre-fab building was designed and constructed offsite by A-B Tech students to be an example of an energy efficient residential home before its new role as an APD station. A-B Tech President Dr. Hank Dunn and Vice President of Risk Management and Operations Max Queen were on hand for the ribbon cutting.
“When you’re a member of a community, your role is to say ‘How can I be involved? How can I help?’” Dunn said.
The Oakley Police Resource Center a few months before completion. The center officially opened Oct. 27.
Alongside the work by the students, the effort involved multiple city departments, who contributed to modifying and enhancing the station, including the city of Asheville’s building safety, information technology, parks, recreation and cultural arts, public works and water resources departments.
“This could not have happened without all the collaboration of the city departments,” Hogan said. “And without the support of the Mayor and City Council, it would not have been possible.”
The opening of the new facility, which will be a workplace and base of operations for some 40 APD officers, shows the department’s dedication to having a visible presence in the community, Bellamy said. It also provides the opportunity for the officers to continue close relationships with the surrounding neighborhoods and provides a place for neighbors to go if they need police assistance.
“This is an example of our commitment from our Chief,” she said. “We’re really doing what we need to do to make sure our city is safe.”
Click the link below to see a video about the new Oakley Police Resource Center.
Despite the recent spell of dry, hot weather throughout the state, the City of Asheville’s water supply remains in good shape and is able to meet the demands of water customers, reports Water Services Director Steve Shoaf.
Last week, the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council (www.ncdrought.org) issued a drought advisory for the state of North Carolina, and classified Asheville and its surrounding region as “abnormally dry.” But tools used by the City of Asheville to help predict shortages to its water supply do not indicate that the city needs to implement conservation measures at this time.
The North Fork water reservoir
The Water Resources Department utilizes software that factors elements like climate, topography, weather history, soil condition and water use to determine the ideal level for the city’s primary water source, the Lake Burnette (North Fork) reservoir, one of three water sources and treatment facilities the city owns. The program crunches that data to estimate where water levels will be 10 weeks out, giving the city’s Water Resource Department time to factor in potential conservation steps. Based on the percentage chance that the reservoir will be at a specific level, the city can decide whether or not to implement conservation measures.
“It tells us that if we have these conditions today, in 10 weeks the lake is going to be at a certain level,” Shoaf says. “The results of the model indicate that we are not currently threatened by the dry weather conditions.”
In a recent update to the office of the City Manager, Shoaf reported that the current level at North Fork is 4.95 feet below full. Beginning in 2004, the City of Asheville, with the help of an outside consulting firm, created a drought management plan that determines specific thresholds for the lake’s level that would trigger conservation measures, the first of which doesn’t occur until the lake is 30 feet below full.
In fact, Shoaf says, the North Fork reservoir is typically kept at least three feet low as a preventative measure against flood events like the ones that struck Asheville in 2004 in the wakes of hurricanes Francis and Ivan. That safety measure came as a result of the city’s flood operations plan adopted by Asheville City Council in 2007 to prevent large releases of water into the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers in the case of heavy rains.
“If a tropical storm comes, we drop it even further,” Shoaf says.
The last time the City of Asheville implemented water conservation measures was in October 2007. That measure was voluntary instead of mandatory, and the measure was lifted in April 2008. Over those seven months, conservation efforts by City of Asheville water customers saved approximately 2 million gallons per day.
Click here to see more on the City of Asheville’s drought management plan.