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Short-Staffed? How AI Helps New Jersey Residents Reach City Hall

The Borough of Prospect Park has deployed a tool from gov tech startup Polimorphic to respond to incoming telephone calls. The artificial intelligence is helping a small staff connect with residents despite a reduced work week.

Illustration of a brain surrounded by computer circuits.
A small town in New Jersey is combining 19th-century technology with one of the 21st century’s hottest tools so far, in hopes of providing better customer service to residents — and setting an example for other municipalities.

The Borough of Prospect Park, which has a population of about 6,600, has deployed a “voice AI system” from government technology supplier Polimorphic to better handle incoming phone calls to city officials.

The company says Prospect Park is the first local government in the U.S. to use the tool.

The idea comes down to this: Use artificial intelligence to relieve the burden of phone calls on city staff, while making it easier for residents to find what they are looking for in borough services.

Those calls “take up a significant portion of requests” that come into city hall, with many happening when lines are busy or after hours, the company said in a press release. Borough staff have a four-day workweek, meaning no one is generally around to answer non-emergency calls on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“Most residents and businesses don’t know the nuances of which department handles what kind of issues,” Polimorphic CEO Parth Shah said in a statement. “And hearing ‘Press 1 for Public Works, Press 2 for Community Development,’ and so on is a far from ideal experience.”

Deploying the AI tool is part of Prospect Park’s push to expand its digital footprint and mobile presence while improving resident interaction, Intashan Chowdhury, borough administrator, told Government Technology.

“Not to take anything away from our staff here, but we are short-staffed,” he said. This new tech “can make us a little more efficient.”

Prospect Park has 26 employees total, seven of whom are full time — not counting police. Already, the AI-based system has resulted in less foot traffic to city hall, he said, as the technology helps residents navigate permitting, marriage licenses and other needs.

The AI-based system doesn’t always satisfy residents’ inquiries in full but the tech provides a “head start,” Chowdhury said — a process he likened to telemedicine, which often can prepare medical professionals and patients alike for giving or receiving further care.

Prospect Park has an ongoing business relationship with Polimorphic, with the company previously supplying AI-based natural language search tools to the borough. Chowdhury sees this latest deployment as proof smaller towns can successfully take advantage of AI in daily operations.

“If [we] can do it, there is no reason others can’t,” he said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.