GRAVENHURST - Automated service is not service in the collective mind of council.
With a proposal to implement automated phone services at the town hall as a way to free up some staff time, council agreed unanimously it wasn’t worth the trade-off for public contact.
“I am not in support at this time of pursuing automated phone service,” Mayor Paisley Donaldson said as the issue came to the table Sept. 18. “I just think this is something we don’t need to move forward with.”
When first investigating the option to introduce automated phone service, it was estimated some 90 per cent of the calls to town hall would have been directed through the auto-service, freeing up that time for front line staff to deal with other tasks. It wasn’t enough to curry the favour of the rest of council either.
“I don’t think this is a good idea. We’re a small town and I think we need to keep that sense of small town and personal service,” added Coun. Lola Bratty. “We need to have that front-line smile. I think that’s an important statement to the public.”
Coun. Randy Jorgenson was the only member on the fence, saying he was “ambivalent,” seeing good to both systems, one freeing up time for staff, the other ensuring personal public service.
Coun. Bob Colhoun said he has heard of several Ontario municipalities that implemented automated phone services this year and just as promptly removed them.
“There’s something to be said for having a body there,” he said.
As the current town hall message is somewhat complex with some 16 options, council did agree that a new message and contact options need to be streamlined and simplified, but will otherwise ensure a live person is answering calls.
Clerk Candace Thwaites said town staff management were not necessarily in favour of implementing the system either, but it was simply a concept that came about during the 2012 budget deliberations as a way to find efficiencies wherever possible.
“We are happy to take it back and look at ways of improving the existing system,” she said.