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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
Politics

City, county app aims to improve connection

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TAMPA — For anyone in Tampa and Hillsborough County who has been frustrated trying to reach someone in local government, your frustrations may soon be eased.

The city and county governments have new phone applications that allow you to ask for service with a few clicks on your mobile device.

The Tampa app even allows you to photograph a problem, such as a pothole, a downed tree or an illegal garbage dump. A global positioning satellite function then sends the location to the appropriate city department.

Hillsborough County will have the photo-GPS option by early May, according to communications director Lori Hudson.

The county application is available for Android phones, but iPhone and iPad users will have to wait a few weeks until Apple approves the app.

The city and county apps are free.

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the app rollout in January. City information technology workers had started work on the project about six months earlier, said Russell Haupert, the city’s chief information officer.

“The mayor is very focused on technology and making sure citizens can connect with city services, no matter where they are or what time it is,” Haupert said. “He asked us to expedite our efforts in that area and we were happy to do it.”

The city app had about 2,000 downloads the first month, and now has between 5,000 and 6,000 users, Haupert said.

The genesis of Hillsborough County’s app was a trip by County Commissioner Al Higginbotham to New York with his wife, Devon. Higginbotham noticed there were a number of free apps available for city services, walking tours and subway routes.

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Doing some research, Higginbotham discovered Citizens Connect, Boston’s award-winning app that “empowers residents to be the city’s eyes and ears,” according to the city website.

“I got the idea, why couldn’t we do that in the county,” Higginbotham said.

“When you go out and see something, a pothole or a loose dog, you would typically call your county commissioner or the county center and wait for a voicemail or a call back. This was just a more efficient way to report problems.”

In addition to its “Report a Concern” function, the app allows residents to receive county alerts, email county commissioners and check out county careers.

Outdoors enthusiasts can search the county’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department for hiking and horse trails, canoe launches and dog parks.

And if resident needs to talk to a county employee in person, the app will provide directions to the department office.

“If it’s in the county center, it will even tell you which elevator bank to take,” Hudson, the communications director, said.

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The new app is also a testament to County Administrator Mike Merrill’s twin passions for better customer service and cutting-edge technology.

Since Merrill became administrator, the county has joined Tampa in a $34.2 million software project to integrate administrative functions such as payroll, accounting, procurement and human resources.

The system later tied in the Clerk of Circuit Court office and county Civil Service.

Also under Merrill, the county revamped its website and instituted a central call center for complaints and concerns.

Last month, Merrill announced a reorganization that will include the hiring of a chief information and innovation officer.

Merrill’s job description for the new position was to “create a vision and road map for our organization and to become a leader and innovator in information technology.”

Hudson said the county will continue to look at ways to improve the mobile app with new functions.

“What we’re trying to do is advance information to citizens the way they want to receive it,” she said.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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