For the past several years, the city of Trenton has paid for a telephone and seldom used email notification system. The system was "sold" to the residents as a way for city officials to keep the community at large notified in the event of an emergency.
Not a bad idea.
Not bad, if used correctly.
Almost from day one, the system has been abused.
Those who signed up for the service were soon treated to such frivolous messages as then Mayor Doug Palmer's daughter telling you not to put trash out or the Mayor himself promoting ticket sales for the "Trenton Jazz Festival" (another boondoggle we'll tell you about sometime).
People quickly grew aggravated and frustrated with the abuse of the phone contact system. They were annoyed at the fact that it was overused and mostly for the wrong reasons.
This caused people to want to be removed from the notification list, a task that seems to be nigh onto impossible to complete.
When the administration of Mayor Tony Mack took the reins of the city the situation got worse.
During the "brown water" crisis of October 2010, the use of the phone notification system was inadequate to keep the public up to date on the situation at the water works.
Strangely, as that crisis passed and we neared the date of the city's poorly planned and executed Thanksgiving parade, residents were treated to repeated rounds of calling inviting them to attend the event.
In recent weeks, residents in the South, East and West wards have been treated to phone calls inviting them to attend the opening of the Mayor's Learning Centers and encouraging them to volunteer to help operate said centers.
Last night, however, when there was an electrical problem at the city's water pumping station on Pennington Avenue that caused low pressure issues across the water system, not a peep was uttered via the Blackboard Connect system.
After several years of this stuff, maybe it is time to reevaluate the cost effectiveness of this mayoral toy.
Documents obtained via OPRA request in December of 2010 show that the city of Trenton pays $58,000 per year to provide the telephone notification system to up to "29,000 households." Any numbers over the 29,000 limit would be charged $2 per number per year. Anything fewer than 29,000 households, and the city pays more per number.
Curious as to just how many households there might be in Trenton, we looked up the census data from 2010. According to the census quick facts page for the period 2006 - 2010, the city of Trenton has only 27,901 households That is about 1,100 fewer than we are allowed under our contract with Blackboard Connect. And remember, Trenton has been losing population not gaining it.
Keeping this in mind, we propose the city of Trenton ditch the contract with Blackboard Connect and work out an agreement to use the Mercer County Reverse 911 for real emergencies. This will cut the abuse of the system and save the taxpayers $58,000 per year.