Town wants to know how to communicate with you

T-shirts, a smartphone app, an iPad—ink nowhere in the mix

BY VOICE STAFF

An interdepartmental team of Town staff have been compiling data and developing “new and creative ways” for the municipality to communicate and engage with residents. The team presented their findings from Phase 1 of the study to councillors during the April 18 Council meeting.

Bylaw officer Craig Genesse explained to Council that one notable outreach initiative was designing the “Did You Know” t-shirts handed out and worn by Town staff at the Pelham Easter Egg Hunt and Pelham Home Show. Also mentioned was the development of the Town of Pelham “app,” and the installation of an iPad public information-gathering tool placed at the main reception desk at Town Hall.

The iPad survey gives citizens a chance to tell the Town what their preferred means of communication and receiving information is: email, Canada Post, phone, or newspaper.

So far, public response to the iPads has been slow, to put it mildly. Only one individual filled out the survey since the iPad was installed in January. The team said they plan to step up promotion of the iPad survey in the second phase of their initiative.

The team also determined that the Town’s automated call-out system needs to be upgraded.

Currently the system is used to contact residents for utility billing, accounts in arears, continuous leak calls and broken meters. Water billing clerk and interdepartmental team member, Krysten MacLeod, said the upgraded system will increase efficiency, save staff time and provide clearer-quality calls.

The improved system will also be able to contact the public regarding water main breaks, emergency road closures or public announcements. Upgrades to the software and the additional lines are estimated to cost between $6,000 and $7,000.

Special events and festivals programmer, Sally Jaeger, said the Town’s printed Community Guide had been an effective way to show people what the Town has to offer. She said the group has received several comments from residents who found it to be a useful resource that provided a diverse range of information about community events and organizations.

“We have all the information online but sometimes people like to just sit and look at something physically in their hands,” said Jaeger.

“When we did have the [printed] guide, we had so many comments where people were saying ‘I didn’t know the Town did this.’ I think we are missing that resource right now.”

Councillor John Durley suggested reaching out to the business community to sponsor the community guide with paid advertisements, since it would be a way for them and the Town to engage with the people of Pelham and new residents. [Editor’s Note: Previously the Voice, and then the Pelham News, printed the Town guide.]

The Town of Pelham “app,” or smartphone application, is another way the group believes the municipality can improve communications.

The app provides smartphone owners with detailed event information and calendar, press releases and news items, Community Centre information and updates and public service requests. Since it launched last December, 98 subscribers have signed up. MacLeod said the group plans to focus on boosting subscriptions in the next phase.

The Town’s general email announcement list has just 358 registered subscribers, according to Town public relations officer Marc MacDonald, who acknowledged that the Town does not know how many of these may be non-Pelham recipients.

(Pelham’s residential population is approximately 17,000, across 6,500-plus households.)

Councillor Peter Papp commended the team on their work, stressing the importance of their study.

“Communicating and engaging with people — those that are here and those that are coming in here is crucial,” he said.

“They need to get the right information at the right time in the proper way.”

A unilateral move by Town staff to entirely eliminate communication with residents by print was stopped by Council over a year ago when Councillors asserted that they were blindsided by the decision, which had already been announced in another weekly newspaper.

The issue was referred back to staff for “review.” Numerous follow-ups by the Voice over several months have garnered similar responses along the lines of “we’re still looking into the matter.”

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