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Screenshot of active requests submitted to city departments through the new online and mobile app concern reporting system, which launched in July with Grand Forks' new website.

Grand Forks adds online, mobile reporting system for residents’ concerns

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News Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/090114.N.GFH_.COMPLAINTS.png?itok=xEUEkiQ4
Grand Forks Herald
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Grand Forks adds online, mobile reporting system for residents’ concerns
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

From abandoned shopping carts to overgrown lawns, a steady flow of concerns have begun flowing through Grand Forks’ new online reporting system.

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The system went live with the city’s new website and mobile app in early July and has lodged 247 requests to address concerns. More than 170 have been completed, according to city spokesman John Bernstrom.

The most popular so far this summer are complaints filed for long grass, making up 98 of the total requests.

Instead of calling the city or sending an email, the new system allows residents to fill out a form and upload pictures. Once completed, the request is passed on directly to the appropriate city department.

“For instance, if a person is complaining about long grass on a property, it doesn’t have to filter through us and go through a couple of phone calls and eventually get to the health department,” Bernstrom said.

Once submitted, residents can check the progress of their request, browse and comment on other requests. The platform also features a “supporter” button which acts in the same fashion as a Facebook “like” and the ability to set a request to public or private.

Still a process

City Council President Dana Sande is one resident who has used the system to submit concerns.

For instance, while taking lawn clippings to a grass-only dump site, he found a pile of brush and branches.

“For me, it was easy. I saw it, took a picture and uploaded,” Sande said.

Though submitting a concern or complaint is now instant, the city still needs to go through the usual process of addressing them.

Many complaints, such as those for long grass, must be verified by the city. The status of a grass complaint wouldn’t change to “completed” until the property owner mowed the lawn or the city contracted with a mowing company to cut the grass.

The process can take more than a few days to complete as the owner must be given official notice.

 “The city can’t go willy-nilly onto private property, start cutting grass and sending a bill somewhere,” Bernstrom said.

Pictures uploaded with the requests have the potential to speed up the complaint process while saving the city time and money.

One such image accompanied a complaint about an overgrown tree, which turned out to be growing on private property.

“If we wouldn’t have had that picture, we would have gone through that whole process of sending somebody out there to see if it was on private property,” Bernstrom said.

Instead of sending out a crew, the city talked to the property owner and resolved the problem.

Data collection

The data collected through the reporting systems could have other uses, though Bernstrom said every potential avenue hasn’t be identified yet.

“We’re collecting this data right now and exporting the data. As time goes on it’ll become more robust,” he said. “Then we can say ‘OK, this is what goes on in this neighborhood this time of year.’”

Sande agrees all uses of the data haven’t been realized yet but said it’s likely the council and city could find it helpful with project management and coordination between city departments and residents on solving problems.

“Until we start using it and start seeing and receiving lots of data, the possibilities for what it would be used for become endless,” he said.

With the system, city officials can track response times, break down complaints by city ward and monitor repeat complaints, which could point to larger problems with utilities or neighborhoods.

 For example, a neighborhood with frequent streetlight problems could be something the city would have to work with a power company to fix.

On the Web: Concerns can be reported to the city of Grand Forks online at http://goo.gl/HQJXKZ or through the city’s GF311 app, which is available for Android (http://goo.gl/snXplV) and iPhone (http://goo.gl/AK55Uj).

Concerns by the numbers

Total concerns since launch: 247

Long grass: 98

General concern: 55

Streetlight out: 37

Junk, trash, or rubbish: 29

Trail/bikeway issue: 11

Junk vehicle: 7

Pothole: 4

Dog waste: 3

Garbage issue: 1

Greenway maintenance: 1

Missed trash: 1

Missed recycling: 0

Drop site concern: 0

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Brandi Jewett
Brandi Jewett is an enterprise reporter for the Grand Forks Herald with beats focusing on northwest Minnesota, unmanned aircraft systems and East Grand Forks city government. Other positions she has held at the Herald include Grand Forks city government reporter, general assigment reporter and news intern. A native of Valley City, N.D., 24 years worth of winters haven't scared her out of the state yet. Follow her work at www.grandforksherald.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @brandijewett. Send tips and story ideas to bjewett@gfherald.com. 
(701) 780-1108
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