Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Help Desk: It's all water over the damn

LAST SUNDAY, Fishtown resident Erica Maxwell's water mysteriously stopped working. She wasn't late on her bill. Her water pipes weren't damaged, leaking sewage or hurting anyone. And a hurricane definitely had not ravaged Fishtown overnight.

Help Desk: It's all water over the damn

LAST SUNDAY, Fishtown resident Erica Maxwell's water mysteriously stopped working. She wasn't late on her bill. Her water pipes weren't damaged, leaking sewage or hurting anyone. And a hurricane definitely had not ravaged Fishtown overnight. 

Outside, Water Department trucks lined her block.

Right before the water went off, a little girl who lived down the street knocked on Maxwell's door to warn her of the outage. Not a peep from the city, though.

Maxwell escaped to a neighborhood bar and, later, to a friend's house to watch the Eagles game.

Later that day, the Eagles had won but Maxwell's water was still off. She was upset. They could have at least warned us, she said.

"I don't think it's good practice to manually shut off water without alerting residents," she wrote on Twitter. "I really don't like this city right now." That night, after she asked, Water Dept. workers gave her an accurate estimate of when the water would be back on.

LEFT HIGH & DRY: We called up the Water Department to get some answers. Spokesman John DiGiulio told us that the water on Maxwell's block had to be shut off so that workers could fix a broken hydrant that was damaging a property. Usually, he said, the department notifies residents of an outage, but if it's an emergency, sometimes there isn't enough time to do so.

If your water gets shut off and you have no idea why, or when it'll come back, call the Water Department's 24-hour line at 215-685-6300. (That's a good number to write down, especially because 3-1-1 is open only during weekdays and business hours.)

And if you don't get results, call us: 215-854-5855.

Maxwell's water was up and running the following morning. She understands that emergency repairs are important, but she still thinks that the department could have done a better job of trying to notify neighbors. After all, Water Department employees were posted on her block all day.

We've got to agree with Maxwell. When it comes to delivering a service, communication is half the battle.

NO GOOD DEED: Last month, we wrote about how all the "no-parking-because-of-street-cleaning" signs on residential streets are wrong. The Streets Department said that it tried to get rid of the signs when Mayor Nutter cut residential street cleaning in 2008, but may have missed a spot (or two, or three).

The Streets Department told us to tell you guys: Call 3-1-1 if you see the signs, and we'll get rid of them.

Well, South Philly resident Joe Gajewski took our message to heart (God bless him). After reading our column, he did a little head count of the signs in his neighborhood.

"I stopped counting after 30," he said.

When he tried to report the signs to 3-1-1, an agent told him that he had to enter a separate request for each sign. If you've ever called 3-1-1, you know how long it takes to enter one request - at least a couple of minutes. Imagine reporting 30!

Assistant Managing Director Sheryl Johnson said that citizens who have more than one request are given the option to enter them online. (Gajewski said that no one told him about this.)

After reporting three parking signs, Gajewski had had enough. That was in early December.

The kicker: The signs are still up.

AND NOW, THE GOOD NEWS: OK, it's true. If we're writing about a certain city department or agency, it probably means that something went wrong. It's the nature of our column: no one's going to call the Help Desk to talk about a job well done. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. This year Mayor Nutter founded the Richardson Dilworth Award for Public Service to honor the often-overlooked job well done. For info and to nominate someone, head to dilworthaward.org. Nominations accepted until Dec. 31.

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.

About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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