When Suffolk County officially rolls out its 311 call system on Friday, callers in the Town of Babylon will be left out, forced to either call the town's own 311 line to be transferred to the county or dial a seven-digit number to reach someone.
County Executive Steve Bellone announced in his State of the County address last month that the 311 system would roll out in 30 days, giving residents a one-stop-shop to file complaints and reducing the burden on 911 call centers.
Bellone was supervisor of Babylon Town when the 311 system was created in the early 2000s. It is the only town in Suffolk with the system and receives about 19,000 calls annually, according to town spokesman Kevin Bonner.
After Bellone announced the county 311 program, Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer said in an interview that he thought, “How is it going to work with us having a 311 for Babylon?”
Schaffer got a preliminary phone call from a county official shortly before the announcement and said he expected detailed coordination later.
“It sounds like we can figure it out and minimize any disruption or confusion,” he said in April.
But during the past month, town officials appeared in the dark about whether the county was making plans to work with Babylon’s existing 311 system and ensure calls were routed correctly.
Bonner said earlier this week that no one from the county has contacted Babylon officials since the initial conversation a few weeks ago.
Town officials said they got a call from Suffolk officials on Wednesday, a few hours after a media inquiry about the county’s plans and its coordination with the town.
“We’ve been spending the last month, and we’ll continue the next few weeks, getting the kinks out of the system,” Jon Kaiman, deputy county executive for intergovernmental affairs and communications, said Thursday.
Kaiman said the county did a soft opening and has been working out the bugs before announcing Friday's formal kickoff.
As of Wednesday, Verizon lines were unable to connect to the 311 system, and AT&T lines got busy signals, Bellone spokesman Jason Elan confirmed. They both appeared to be working on Thursday.
On Wednesday, someone answering the phone at Babylon’s 311 call center was unaware there was a county 311 system and said they had no way of transferring the call or providing a number to call.
Asked whether he considered coordinating with Babylon’s 311 line as part of the county’s process, Kaiman said, “We don’t agree that’s somehow a singular issue. We’re going to be working with every municipality in the county.”
Elan said there is no plan to phase out Babylon's 311 system.
“We made the decision early on not to encroach upon other municipalities’ systems and processes with the understanding that, as time goes on, we find ways to work together,” he said.
For now, people in the physical boundaries of the Town of Babylon trying to reach the county 311 must dial 853-6311 while other workarounds are considered, Kaiman said.
The town will continue to receive its 311 calls.
Bonner said if the town receives a call from someone looking for the county line, they will connect them directly.