Originally created 07/09/01

Hot line sees rise in calls



Most of the business Martha King gets is by word-of-mouth, but she's not selling anything.

She's on the phone almost all day, but she's not a telemarketer.

Ms. King is the voice and the one-woman force behind the city government's question and complaint hot line: Augusta Cares.

"The way I feel is if I don't know the answer, I will find someone who can give you the answer, or I will find it for you," Ms. King said recently from her desk in the city administrator's office on the eighth floor of the municipal building. "Here, they can call one number, and they don't have to worry about getting transferred from one place to another."

The calls are plentiful and sometimes comical. But the sheer volume of questions and complaints Ms. King fields each day continues to increase, more than doubling since the customer service line was established in January 1997.

City officials are considering ways to meet that increased demand for customer service by expanding the service sometime soon.

Since its inception, the hot line has recorded more than 6,700 questions and complaints about city services and countless more that Ms. King was able to answer without making a formal request for information.

"Augusta Cares," Ms. King says when she answers the phone, speaking into a telephone headpiece. "This is Martha King - how may I help you?"

From there, the question or comment from the other end of the line is anyone's guess.

"What commission district do I live in?"

"There's not enough funding for the library, and the buildings are in poor condition."

"Who do I call to report drug activity?"

"There's a tree limb blocking a stop sign on my street."

"What's the address of city hall?"

"I was just chased by a snake."

Augusta commissioners also use Augusta Cares to get things accomplished in their districts.

"I think it's one of the best moves the consolidated government has made," Commissioner Ulmer Bridges said. "I use it quite frequently when a constituent calls."

His only concern is that the city hasn't advertised it enough.

"A lot of people don't know they can call with any problem they've got with the government or any complaint," he said.

Ms. King agrees, saying there are many people still calling city departments directly for questions and complaints, but not every office has the time or the personnel to handle such calls.

"Being willing to help is what makes the difference," Ms. King said. "Follow through. That's part of the problem with customer service with any place of work."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.

Service hours

The Augusta Cares hot line takes phone calls from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The number is 821-2300.