Shall we hire nurses, teachers? Nah. Hire 311 call center operators? Sure!

Everything you heard “>Gavin-ballyhoed handy-dandy 311 call center, do not come cheap: Muni is billed $1.96 for every call, which runs to a total of $6.2 million every year, Muni officials told a Board of Supervisors hearing today.

But it gets better — while folks hold protests, hearings and write letters to the editor over job cuts at Public Health and elsewhere, 311 has been hiring, adding 25 more operators over the last year (though 12 of the now-90-person strong outfit will be laid off sometime over the next few months. Exactly who we don’t know — hopefully it wasn’t the nice young lady who managed to get us from Polk Street to North Beach in about 10 minutes). Guess we should have studied “Googling stuff, then relaying Googled-info over phone” in school after all.

This, coming in the wake of a marathon Muni meeting, in which Muni board members had to listen to 5 1/2 hours worth of “I don’t like your proposed service reductions, your $130 million budget deficit be damned,” does not look at all good, nor did the helpful suggestion that if we just all started using 511, we’d save good old Muni a cool $4.5 mill.
We’ll keep that in mind.

Today’s Finger Pointathon at Budget and Finance only got better from there: we heard from the San Francisco Police Department that the 11 officers assigned to patrol the T-Third line, which include K-9 units, do so all on overtime, and the OT bill is then passed onto Muni.

Peep the documents for yourself, here and here.

We also heard repeated testimony from drivers and passengers, including the head of the local drivers’ union, that cops ride along buses and trains at most for a block or two if at all, not the five-block-hope recommended by none other than then-Assistant Chief Heather Fong in 2001.

Robert Haaland, political impresario for the SEIU Local 1021, which represents some Muni operators, dubbed it “a political shell game” that allows other city departments to use Muni as a piggybank. The one department we didn’t hear from today was Technology and Information Services, who bill Muni another $6-7 million or so for services unknown — perhaps playing the shell game on the back of the 49-Van Ness, for all we know. No, really — you’ll guess the right cap this time. Just slap down another $100, please.

“There’s a lack of accountability,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who looked most Mayoral while running today’s hearing. “[These costs] are bleeding the system dry.”

Not in the room today? Big brass from MTA, like the Chief Financial Officer, and Muni chief Nat Ford. We assume they had their fill on Tuesday.

But your moment of Zen came courtesy District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu, who put it thusly: “There will never be enough money to get Muni where we want it to be.”

Amen, sister.

Since 311 was Gavin’s baby, we wanted to know how he took this costly news, so we e-mailed his press secretary, Nathan Ballard. Forgive us for feeling nostalgic, but we just can’t help remembering our print journalism days, as “Ballard did not return an e-mail seeking comment.”

Stay tuned, as the entire deal was continued to a meeting to be named later. In the meantime, please do your civic duty and bring a bus schedule with you.

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