A new electronic tool could make reporting potholes in need of repair and other issues in Gulfport easier to do by about the end of this year, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
A cell phone app designed by GovQA was technically ready to go in August of 2016, but new technology, funding and staffing issues have also been a part of the strategic process and addressing each aspect takes time, he said.
The city manager’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, due to the city council by July 15, “will include additional [staff] positions and software in various city departments to provide service-level responsiveness” that is needed to effectively release such a comprehensive and interactive tool for residents, he said. “The implementation of the city’s app continues to be on hold pending the completion of the budget process.”
At first, the city worked with GovQA to create a cell phone app, which does not “talk to” the city’s finance software, said Dave Mather, Gulfport’s IT director. Then, when it was decided to update the city’s proprietary finance software suite called Incode by Tyler Technologies, staff learned that they now also offer an integrated electronic tool that would allow residents to report issues involving potholes, animals, flooding, trash or code violations. The finance software has not been upgraded since 2007 and though it works “perfect for finance, the city now needs something that is more dynamic that will allow staff to do things on the fly,” said Mather. Either tool or a combination of both will also allow people to make a reservation for an event.
The finance “software suite allows community development to do building and permitting things online,” said Mather. “It would also allow staff to do things in the field much easier. There is also a citizen portal” that citizens would be able to log into.
The biggest part of preparing any interactive tool is making sure there are enough people on staff to handle the variety of requests from the public, said O’Reilly.
“Back in the day when community apps were first being developed, pothole and street sign issues were typically the most” commonly requested topics, he said.
When someone reports a pothole issue, “I want to make sure staff can get there in a timely manner” – faster than waiting two or three days, said O’Reilly. “We’re looking at adding about 10 total positions – a combination of full-time and part-time maintenance people. There are three proposed positions in the Streets Department that will handle mostly complaints” that will be submitted electronically.
New staff positions are also proposed for the Utilities Department, the marina and in code enforcement, said O’Reilly.
Over the years, the city has weathered most of an economic downturn from 2008 to 2010 by downsizing staff size through attrition, he said. If approved, the new positions will be the first major staff expansion since this era.
The council will approve the new budget by September 19. At that point, the finance software upgrade and new staffing positions will be officially funded. Job openings will then be posted and filled.
After that, “we’d roll out” the new tool for residents to electronically submit complaints, said O’Reilly. “I would hope it would be ready by the end of the year depending on how long it takes to get the [finance] software installed” and the new staff hired and trained.