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Residents use e-mail for help

July 19, 2001 

AIKEN - Aiken residents now can make city requests, report problems, ask questions, and make suggestions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The service is offered through Aiken's Web site,, under the heading, ''Online Service Requests/Comments.''

Once a request is made, even in the middle of the night, it will be routed immediately to the appropriate city department for action, City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

''Now citizens can click on everything from garbage collection to building inspection, and know they will get a response in a timely fashion,'' he said.

More than 100 people used the service in its first week - the first week of July - and that's without any sort of advertising other than word of mouth, Mr. LeDuc said. City officials said they plan to advertise on public safety vehicles and garbage trucks. They also will send out leaflets and fliers.

So far, the most common responses on the application are the requests to repair traffic lights and streets, or replace signs that are missing.

Officials think the Web site will grow in popularity. ''Technology is so pervasive now that I think that people at some point in the future will see (the service) as second nature because it gives them an opportunity to file a request or complain at any time. It completely obliterates the old model of the 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) service period,'' said Assistant City Manager Bill Huggins.

Here's how it works: Once a report or comment has been made, it will be sent immediately to the city staffer responsible for that function. The resident making the report will then receive an e-mail back giving a confirming case number. That way, a resident can check on the progress of the case through the Web site to see whether it has been investigated or solved.

The service also will give city officials a better idea of what issues the residents are most concerned about, Mr. LeDuc said.

People who do not own computers or who are more comfortable with using the phone still can call the city manager's office or the direct city department that handles the issue, Mr. Huggins said.

Public safety gets 35,000 calls a year, and many of them, he said, are nonemergency. In some cases, people want to make a request to the city after hours. Because public safety is always open, that is one of the places that they call first.

Aiken is one of two cities in the state pioneering the online service, Mr. Huggins said.

By Sara Bancroft South Carolina Bureau, Copyright © 1996 - 2001 The Augusta Chronicle

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