New app encourages residents to 'Tell HoCo' about needed repairs

A new Howard County web and mobile application is trying to make notifying the government of a downed tree or pothole as easy as sending a text. 

Wednesday, county officials launched Tell HoCo, an app that directly connects citizens with the agencies responsible for fixing various municipal problems.

"Our goal is to bring the most efficient, effective government to the citizens of Howard County," said County Executive Ken Ulman. "I believe we are known as a county that gets things done, and this is an important step." 

Residents can download the free app from the iTunes or Google Play store and use it to report a variety of issues, including dead animals, graffiti, potholes, downed trees and streetlights in need of repair by locating the problem on a map and entering in a few details. The app notifies the agency in charge of making the fix.

Currently, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Recreation and Parks use the app, but county officials said they hoped to eventually expand the reporting function to more agencies. 

Users can track the progress of a particular work order through the app. Each issue is marked on a map with a color-coded pin to indicate its current status: red is a reported problem, blue means a work order has been assigned and is in progress and green means it's been resolved.

Any app user can see all of the work orders in progress, according to county technology director Chris Merdon. The app also creates "heat maps" to alert elected officials to areas with frequent problems, he said. 

"This brings a level of transparency and openness to the process, which is exciting," Ulman said. 

He said he also hoped the app helped bring awareness to the work county agencies do on a daily basis: "We've always made it a priority. Now, we're making it easier for citizens to report problems." 

According to Merdon, the app, which was developed by SeeClickFix, cost the county $17,000 to license and tailor, and will cost $15,000 annually after that. The program does not require any new staff members to coordinate. The program had a soft launch May 12 and county staff has been using it for several months, he said. 

Joan Lancos, a staff member for the village of Hickory Ridge, said she downloaded the app at the suggestion of Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a friend of hers. Though she said she's not "particularly tech savvy," she used it a few weeks ago to report a fallen sign. 

"Two days later, the sign was fixed," she said. "It was that easy." 

While Howard is the first county in Maryland to license the SeeClickFix app, the City of Laurel launched a similar program in May. The app, MyLaurel, allows citizens to report maintenance problems as well as crime tips and was developed by New York City-based PublicStuff. 

Howard County also has an app, launched in 2012, to help visitors to Ellicott City find parking in the historic district. TThe county also uses an app called Sprigeo to report incidences of bullying through its Stand Up HoCo campaign. 

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