When the phone rings at the East Hampton Town Clerk’s office, employees brace themselves for anything ranging from “How can I get a copy of my tax bill?” to “There’s a raccoon in my backyard and I can’t go outside.”
Dealing with calls about raccoons and other animals is easy, said Deputy Town Clerk Carole Brennan. “We just tell them to go in the Yellow Pages and look for somebody who traps wild animals,” she said. It’s the other calls that sometimes prove difficult. “You just never know what you’re going to get here, you really don’t,” she said.
That may change starting this week.
On Monday, East Hampton Town Hall went live with a brand new phone system that aims to put an end to the telephone merry-go-round callers and employees have had to put up with for years. The upgrade will allow town residents to call one main number, (631) 324-4141. A topic-based prompt system will direct callers to specific departments related to what they’re phoning about instead of having all calls handled by the Town Clerk’s Office or the Town Supervisor’s Office. The new system also will allow Town Hall employees to transfer calls among departments and buildings.
“For the first time in the history of the town, we will have a main town number where people can call in and, through a series of prompts, be directed to a program/department area, or an individual,” Town Budget Officer Len Bernard said in an email. “The number will eventually work its way into telephone books and other reference sources. For now, we are asking the real time media to help us get the word out. People can still call departments directly using the existing department numbers to reach individuals. The big change is the main town number that can help someone who may not know exactly where to go to get to someone in a specific area of interest.”
While there was originally some frustration expressed by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson over how long it took to get the system up and running—Mr. Wilkinson said it should have been in place by last July—it was installed last Friday, and employees were being trained on the new phones all last week. Ms. Quigley first pitched the idea after realizing the amount of paperwork and charges Town Hall was incurring with individual phone bills. She called it a “crazy process.”
“Each phone, every single office, had two bills,” Ms. Quigley said. “They had their local bill and their long distance bill. Why? Because we didn’t have a centralized phone system.”
The town has contracted with MAC Source to provide the equipment, integrated system and software, Mr. Bernard said. After an initial equipment purchase of $74,014, the town will pay a yearly maintenance agreement that costs $7,900, he said.
“Based on the equipment, maintenance and repair costs averaged over the last 12 years—almost $70,000 a year average—we hope to save anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 per year on the system,” Mr. Bernard said in an email. “Obviously our service provider bills (Optimum, Verizon) are the same. We have also created a new system that will prove to be more resident user-friendly and more efficient for town workers and operations.”
While the days of answering raccoon-related requests might be over—and other complaints such as “someone mowing their lawn too loudly” or “a guy had a bunch of wood stacked up on the side of his yard…and it doesn’t look nice”—Ms. Brennan said she thought the new system would free her to concentrate on more pressing duties.
“Hopefully it does,” she said. “Hopefully it will direct the person right to where they need to go.”