Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cutting the county's phone costs and life lines

Milwaukee County administrators, desperately looking for ways to fund basic services because Scott Walker would rather (have other people) die than raise property taxes, are recommending a huge cut to the county's 211 line.

Reports the JS:

Also on the chopping block is funding for IMPACT, a non-profit group that operates Milwaukee County's 211 call center. The group would lose 90% of its county funding, from $480,000 last year to $46,958 this year.

The 211 centers link callers to community services, including food pantries, emergency shelter, utility assistance, low-cost home rentals, and alcohol- or drug-treatment referrals.

When the 211 service began in 2002, the center took 58,000 calls. This year, it will take an estimated 130,000. Mike Davis, president and CEO of IMPACT, said the proposed budget would cut the number of calls taken by about 55,000.

At first glance, the $3.69 per call cost of operating the line may not seem cost-effective at all. In fact, the county absolutely should look at ways to reduce that cost, either by increasing the volume of calls to the center through an awareness campaign or by actually cutting costs.

But cut the budget? Supervisors ought to put this on the morality weigh scale: operating the 211 line costs the county significantly less per call than the county charges for many generally destitute inmates to call collect from the House of Correction or County Jail.

That amount is $5.50 a call, unless the inmate has a debit card -- then it's $3.30. (The latter is 39 cents less than the cost of the 211 call, but I'm betting most inmates aren't getting the lower rate because they don't have the required debit cards and the average cost of the calls is going to be more than $3.69.)

If county government is unwilling to spend as much to help residents get needed social services as it will charge for an inmate to talk to a loved one on the outside, then something is beyond repair in county government.

Here's a thought: how about looking for ways to reduce both of these costs?

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Gretchen,

This is not the first time that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and The County Board of Supervisors have demonstrated that, “they would rather have other people die” - than do the jobs they were elected to do. I say that because: when told about the live threating circumstances taking place in the County’s disabilty program (DECA), and asked to expose and/or end the corruption and cover-up taking place (in that program) - Scott Walker and the County Board refused to do so. A longstanding and ongoing situation - that is denying (via “backroom politics”) approximately 4,000 disabled individuals the opportunity to even be considered for a civil service job within county government. A set of circumstances - made worse by the fact that those very same disabled individuals (via their disability) are more vunerable to life threatening medical situations. Thus, making them in even greater need of the health insurance a full-time job with the County could have provided. All this, do to the fact that the current County employees have been able to successfully use “backroom politics” to keep the “DECA” people out of their way – when they (the County employees) decide it is time to change jobs. I know this to be the case - from first hand experience. I almost died because of the “backroom politics” I mentioned.

Daniel

Anonymous said...

The County spends approx. 60 million in healthcare for retiree healthcare. Retirees pay no premiums. Maybe if they started paying premiums those could offset the funds neccesary to fully fund the 211 line.

Joe Klein said...

One of the big problems at Milwaukee County is the lack of creativity by both Scott Walker appointees and the existing bureaucracy. They tend to look for commercial solutions from a semi-closed circle of vendors and consultants. They don't want to take a risk on some of the technologies like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that can save Milwaukee County money and thus allow for the preservation of services.

Many VoIP carriers provide flat rate lines with unlimited calling in the US and Canada.

Significant savings can be incurred using VoIP based PBXs especially if implemented using Open Source based systems such as Asterix.

If Federal, State, County, Cites and Villages interconnect over their own fiber networks, the cost of inter agency calling can be reduced to nearly zero.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and stop government reliance on on gold plated IT solutions. A mentality that worships big consultants and big business solutions seems to reign supreme in Wisconsin. We need to foster a spunky, roll-your own, self dependency. Open Source Software (OSS) can provide low cost solutions to many of governments IT problems. To be effective, it takes disciplined software development and a cooperative approach with other other Villages, Cities, Counties, States and Countries involved in OSS development.

Google (A Linux shop) and Yahoo (A FreeBSD Shop) are companies that have made themselves using OSS to craft customer solutions. With the right minds at the helm, OSS solutions can architected to be scalable and reliable.

We need to put money into employee development rather than the pockets of large consultant firms like Accenture. We need to cooperate with other developers using the Internet and work to collectively improve our OSS based software. Taking an open, cooperative yet self reliant approach, we can insure that government can best serve the people and be frugal at the same time.