vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Have a question for someone in Stafford? 311 will soon have an answer

In July, if you dial 311 in Stafford County, you’ll reach a main call center. You won’t have to figure out which department to call and then be transferred a handful of times before you’re finally talking to the right person.

“We want to put an end to that and help them as soon as they call into the county,” spokeswoman Cathy Vollbrecht told the Board of Supervisors last week. “We want to help them from beginning to end.” A 311 phone line is dedicated by the Federal Communications Commission for local government information. Several localities across the United States have 311 lines as one-stop shops for incoming calls, Vollbrecht said.

The number could be activated early next month.

For emergencies, you should still call 911. Vollbrecht cited an easy saying: “For a burning building, dial 911. For a burning question, dial 311.”

A pilot 311 center was approved in the fiscal 2012 budget, and the program started in February. Three phone numbers for Utilities were rerouted to the 311 center in the Citizens Assistance Office in the government building, staffed by two existing employees.

“We try to handle them from beginning to end. We transfer them only if we cannot answer their question,” Vollbrecht said.

Since Feb. 1, the center has received 9,264 calls, reducing the calls to the Utilities Department by 40 percent. The fiscal 2013 budget calls for the center to open this summer. Departments that could be added to the main 311 line are parks and recreation and the landfill. The county plans to create a database for frequently asked questions for call takers and to record the nature of calls.