County Web Sites can be Cheap, Effective and Easy-to-Maintain
E-government has become an essential part of modern government. As the broadband technology push connects even remote communities to the outside world, the efficiencies and transparency for large and small government entities are selling points for establishing and maintaining an online presence. But establishing and maintaining a Web site requires expertise that comes with a price.
Cheap Online Option for Counties
But for the approximately 180 customers of the County Information Resources Agency (CIRA), that price tag is no more than $350 per year – and free if they maintain their own Web pages. That’s a fraction of the cost of hiring a Webmaster or contracting with a private vendor. CIRA , an interlocal government agency primarily funded by Texas Association of Counties (TAC), can provide all the basics for a county’s online presence, including electronic payment services, Web site design, domain registration, Web hosting and e-mail.
“There are more than 180 counties using our Web hosting,” says CIRA Director Gayle Latham. “We will do it for free if they update it. If they feel they can’t do that, we’ll charge $350 annually to post their agendas and make any other changes they want to make.”
CIRA provides a user-friendly content management system and trains county employees who want to update their site. Latham says CIRA staff will help counties review their technology operations and has conducted major reviews of two counties using an inspection group and even has set up Web sites for two small cities who don’t have access to an equivalent hosting service for municipalities.
Easy for Customers, Easy for Staff
Tom Green County was one of the first to set up a Web site using CIRA . The site is easy-to-navigate for users and easy to maintain with current, useful information. Unlike the county’s previous Web site – a conglomeration of pages created by departments and elected officials – the current site has a consistent look throughout and is very similar to about half the other county Web sites in Texas that use the basic CIRA template.
“We do try to keep as current as we can,” says Tom Green County Judge Mike Brown. “More and more, the legislature is requiring public notices through the Internet. Some smaller counties don’t have Web sites because of additional reporting requirements.”
The county posts notices and news on its homepage and links for making on-line payments, on-line summons responses, voter registration, a district court calendar, district court pre-trial dates and much more.
“A Web site is important for all counties regardless of size because it gives it visibility,” Brown says. “By partnering with CIRA, costs are kept low and a county can free up IT staff for other high priority projects and saves taxpayer dollars that would be needed for a server, Web design and Web maintenance.”
Some counties have expanded their taxpayer services. Houston County’s CIRA Web site includes services such as searching land records searches, a variety of information ranging from the sheriff’s office organizational chart, to the county budget and county utility costs and usage broken down by department.
Set up a County Web Site with CIRA ’s help
Steps to take:
- Contact CIRA to register a domain name, for example www.co.houston.tx.us.
- Enter a no-cost interlocal Web services agreement with CIRA .
Running the Web Site
- CIRA will create a basic Web site and provide access to the content management system used to update the site.
- The county or (for an annual cost of $350) CIRA staff uses the content management system to enter the Web site to update the Web pages.
- Going forward, CIRA offers wizard tools, instructions, phone assistance and hands on training.
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