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Future of Garland’s One Call Now up in air

By Emily M. Hobbs

January 23, 2014

For Garland residents, One Call Now has been funded through NC Step funds, up until this point, that is. After last Tuesday’s meeting, the program’s continuance has been left on the table with town officials divided over how to proceed with the program, which focuses on community communication by getting information to citizens in a quick and efficient manner.


“It is important for us to let our citizens know what is going on in Garland,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy in a telephone interview Wednesday. During the town board meeting last week, Murphy stressed the importance of improving communication with residents, and she detailed how the One Call Now program is designed to do that.


One Call Now’s objective is not just to get needed information out fast but also to help improve community awareness and engagement, thereby leading to a more informed community, the mayor stressed. After highlighting the previous uses of the program, she also mentioned that the system had other benefits such as community surveys and meeting notifications.


“That’s money better spent on postage,” Commissioner Ralph Smith said during the town meeting on Jan. 14, emphasizing his belief that the program shouldn’t continue.


“Both forms (of communication) serve a purpose,” said Murphy Wednesday. “But to get information to citizens in a timely manner, One Call Now works better.” Even through she appreciates the idea of sending a letter, Murphy said it takes a lot of manpower to get them written and disseminated to the public, putting more work on the town’s clerks.


“It also takes time away from their other duties,” added Murphy.


One Call Now is excellent, the mayor said, for instant communications compared to sending a letter about something that may be strategically important such as dealing with a natural disaster or critical emergency in the community. Previously the One Call Now system has been used to notify citizens about NC Step meetings, special events being held in the town, like Back to School functions and Easter Egg hunts, and changes in office hours and closures.


The program is also useful to disseminate information to the local population in regards to utility concerns such as a temporary water shutoff for repairs, as well modifications to other town services including changes in pickup schedules for items like trash, recyclables, leaves and limbs.


The town’s current subscription, which started in March 2013, was for 5,000 messages. The messages are currently limited to 45 seconds and the phone list is divided into five groups, which include all citizens, business owners, bilingual residents, NC Step and others.


As of Jan. 14, the town had 269 credits left, which would not be enough to reach everyone in the town if there was an emergency. For that reason, Murphy brought up the option to upgrade the current One Call Now program to allow the town to utilize the system more, by having unlimited credits and a 120 second recording limit. To make the upgrade the additional cost would be just under $300 more than what the town is currently paying for the system.


The One Call Now system is meant to be an enhancement to current of communication of the town, and is considered supplemental, and not a replacement. Mailings will continue to be done as necessary for detailed information or as required by law, added Murphy via email, and that the town web site will continue to provide important announcements as well.


Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at ebrown@civitasmedia.com