A couple of weeks ago, Citizen Editor Larry Platt asked, “When was the last time you encountered the city bureaucracy and said to yourself, ‘Wow, what great customer service?’” As a result, we’ve taken a page from private industry and unleashed a team of mystery shoppers to interact with city service providers and report back on their experiences…the good, the bad, and the disfiguring. The good news this time around: City employees are very friendly. The bad news: Even they can’t always figure out how to get what we need. Stay tuned for more.
Mystery Shopper Test #4: Requesting a trash can on a street
- Arrive at 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. Municipal Building and go to Sanitation in Streets Dept. on the 7th Floor.
- Greeted by super nice receptionist. I ask for a form to get a trash can on my street.
- Receptionist was unsure where to send me. She left and walked around the office asking her colleagues where to get this type of form.
- After about five minutes, I overheard the receptionist say, “I’ll Google more about it.” She came back to the front desk and told me she needs to do more research, but that there is no form. Instead, there’s an “Adopt a Basket” program for block captains that she needed more information about.
- Another Streets Department worker came to the desk and the receptionist asked her about the Adopt a Basket Program. That employee didn’t know about it either. I suggested that it may be in a different part of the Streets Dept. but the employee said Sanitation was the right place.
- The receptionist spent a few minutes on her computer, and found what she was looking for: She told me the Adopt A Basket program allows block captains to request a trash can on their block, and pledge to change the trash bags after every trash cycle. This program is through the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee.
- The receptionist gave me directions on how to request a can:
- Talk to my block captain about a new trash can on my street
- Have block captain call PMBC to request
- I follow-up and ask if I can be the Adopt a Basket pledge, and she says no, that it must be through my block captain.
- The receptionist writes down the phone number of the PMBC for me to provide to my block captain and the name of the Adopt a Basket program.
Time spent: 20 minutes
Result: Still a pile of trash on my sidewalk corner.
Takeaways: The service was helpful, but the process of asking for a trash can is too complicated and restrictive.
Lightning bolt rating: (They were nice, and gave me the info. But still no trash bin on the block.)
Mystery Shopper Test #5: Applying for “LOOP”: Longtime Owner Occupants Program
(i.e. trying to stay in my home despite gentrification)
- Went online to phila.gov/revenue.
- Navigated through a couple pages to the Longtime Owner Occupants Program.
- Clicked on Step 1 of the process: “Check if you are eligible.”
- Took me to a page allowing me to input my address, which then gave me a page full of valuable info about my house: Police district, school catchment, trash day, Councilmanic district, even water district. But, sadly, no information about whether I am eligible for LOOP.
- Went back to LOOP main page, clicked on Step 2: “Apply.”
- Got a PDF form that informed me that the deadline to apply “has been extended” to June 30, 2015.
- Went back to LOOP main page again. In bold type, near the top it says: “It’s not too late! If your property was eligible for LOOP starting in 2014, there is still time to apply and start receiving tax savings.” Below the list of steps, also says in bold that “Applications will be accepted until June 30, 2015.”
- Scroll to bottom of page, where phone number is listed for questions.
- Call 215-686-9200. Despite extended Revenue Department hours during tax time, get a recording that says all representatives are busy. Offers me the chance to leave a call back number.
- Very nice and helpful representative calls back within 20 minutes. Looks up account, and tells me LOOP expired last June. It’s too late to apply.
- Recommends I apply for a homestead exemption, though the rebate will be far less.
Time Spent: 30 minutes. (Including 20 minute wait for call back.)
Result: No LOOP rebate.
Takeaways: The LOOP program is great, for those who applied on time: An over $4,000 tax bill in my changing neighborhood came down to just over $1,000. But residents who didn’t know about it, or who live in neighborhoods that are just now experiencing a dramatic rise in property values—and taxes—are out of luck.
Lightning bolt rating: (Great program for some residents; helpful service from the revenue department; outdated website.)
Mystery Shopper Test #6: Applying for a Homestead Exemption
(which reduces property assessment by $30,000 for all homeowners in the city, thereby reducing their tax burden)
- Called 311.
- Representative transferred to Revenue Department.
- Representative in Revenue Department directs me to phila.gov/revenue to download a form to apply for a deduction on my tax bill starting in 2016. She informs me it is too late for this tax cycle: Applications were due by September.
- Download and fill out form.
Time Spent: 15 minutes.
Result: No homestead exemption for this tax cycle, but application sent in for 2016.
Takeaways: It’s quick and easy to apply for a Homestead Exemption. Revenue Department representative was very informative and helpful.
Lightning bolt rating: