From the start, 3-1-1's funding was cut in half by Mayor Nutter's recession-ravaged budget, from $4 million to $2 million. It hasn't risen above $2.6 million since.
The money was spent on what was supposed to be an interim computerized call center at City Hall that has handled 4 million service requests since 2009, but it still hasn't been upgraded to the sophisticated tracking system used in New York, Baltimore and other major 3-1-1 cities.
Despite a lack of funding, Philly311 handles a million calls a year and consistently earns 90 percent customer satisfaction ratings in independent surveys, city officials say.
But, because there's no money for advertising, getting the word out to neighborhoods that need 3-1-1 has been restricted to Nutter talking it up at news conferences, and word of mouth.
"Most of the callers we get who are angry about a problem didn't know about us," said Kimberly Adams, who has been fielding 3-1-1 calls for two years: "Let's work the problem, people.
"You get people who've been sitting there with a streetlight out for six months before they find out about calling 3-1-1," she said. "When we finally get the call, it's the last straw for them, so they are a little more angry than most. I'd be angry, too, if my streetlight was out for six months. So I understand. And I help."
City Controller Alan Butkovitz criticized the 3-1-1 system last fall for being so unknown that it was not fulfilling its goal of decreasing nonemergency calls to 9-1-1.
Butkovitz said that Philadelphians were still calling 9-1-1 for nonemergencies as often as they did before 3-1-1 was created.
Managing Director Rich Negrin, who monitors 3-1-1 performance quarterly through statistical analyses, told the Daily News that Butkovitz's accusation is based on old data from the program's earliest days and is no longer true.
"In 2009, when we started, there were 4,316 nonemergency calls made to 9-1-1 that should have been made to 3-1-1," he said. "In 2010, that number dropped to 3,048 calls. In 2011, it dropped to 2,247. So in just two years, we've cut down the number of nonemergency calls to 9-1-1 by almost half."
Negrin expects the number to drop more dramatically, now that 1,000 police officers have been trained to take service requests from residents, enter the information on their wireless mobile computers and send it directly to 3-1-1.
John Ross has been a Philadelphia police officer for 21 years and recently trained hundreds of fellow officers to process citizens' 3-1-1 service requests.
"It's a great system," Ross said. "We can talk to citizens, send their service requests directly to 3-1-1 and give them a tracking number so they can check on the progress. People don't just see us as guys in blue running around in a car. I get to meet and develop a relationship with Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith, so they know, 'Hey, if I've got an issue, I can talk to Officer Ross.' "
And police officers, Ross said, can spend their time on 9-1-1 calls instead of responding to non-emergencies.
Adams said that the more people who discover 3-1-1, the better. "We don't want people to feel there's no place for them to turn to when a streetlight goes out," she said. "You need to call us. We're here to help. We are waiting for your call."
Contact Dan Geringer at 215-854-5961 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @DanGeringer.