Winners were announced Tuesday, July 12, for the Digital Counties Survey awards, a program aimed at highlighting innovation and achievement in technology implemented by county governments.

The survey is conducted annually by the Digital Communities program, a joint effort of the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology.

Winners were divided into four population categories that that ranked the top 10 positions and ties. First-place winners in each category emphasized IT initiatives and projects that cut costs and helped their agencies cope with shrinking work forces.

“Survey responses indicate counties are effectively economizing and finding innovative ways of using technology to meet the higher demand for services during this trying economic time,” said Todd Sander, executive director of the Digital Communities program. “Counties are consolidating and sharing services to cut down on costs and leveraging technology like virtualization to capture critical savings.”

Palm Beach County, Fla., took first place in the 500,000 or more population category.

“We were very excited to hear the news,” said Steve Bordelon, director of information systems services for Palm Beach County. 

Bordelon believes the win was partially due to the county’s success at connecting schools to less expensive broadband. The county owns roughly 350 miles of fiber and gave city schools access to it at wholesale prices, enabling the schools to cut their broadband expenses in half. In addition to that accomplishment, Digital Counties Survey judges praised the county’s intranet website, a portal for applications, forms, publications and self-service features. Judges said that in general Palm Beach County displayed exceptional multijurisdictional collaboration, solid innovation and great shared services.

Washoe County, Nev., clinched first place in the 250,000 to 499,999 population category. County CIO Cory Casazza said he was particularly gratified to reach first place given that his department’s IT budget had been reduced by nearly 45 percent since 2006.

“I think we started out a few years ago just trying to keep the lights on and realized that in order for us to succeed and take the county somewhere, we needed to find a way to not only keep the lights on, but add some value,” Casazza explained.

Information technology provided that value, Casazza said, when switching to open source products helped prevent layoffs. For example, Washoe County saved $250,000 by transitioning to an open source voice-over-IP system. Casazza’s team also implemented an open source help-desk ticketing system that saved about $40,000. Several other changes to the county’s technology have led to further savings, said Casazza.

“Washoe County shares its resources well with other jurisdictions, including tribes and neighboring states, and is best-in-class for its collaborative functions,” Sander said.

Sander pointed to the 800 MHz radio system the county shares with 17 local agencies and tribes. He also cheered the county’s plans to consolidate IT with the city of Reno, Nev. 

First place in the 150,000 to 249,999 population category went to Pueblo County, Colo. Dan Mauro, Pueblo County’s information systems director, gave much of the credit to the county’s redesigned Web portal. The website highlights e-government services available in the region. A citizen now can look up any government he or she might need within the Pueblo County area on the county’s portal. The county is also in the process deploying a function that will inform a Pueblo County-area citizen of every service available to him or her simply by entering his or her address.

“A lot of times you don’t know what you’re looking for, like if you’re trying to move to town,” Mauro said, explaining how the new portal is useful. “If you want to check out an address on a new house, it will tell you what your school district is, what the power company is — you’ll know who to call to make inquiries about what the services cost,” said Mauro.

Beyond that accomplishment, survey judges were impressed with the county’s shared services efforts, which are delivering hosted GIS, property assessment and taxation services to five other counties.

The top spot in the less than 150,000 population category went to Nevada County, Calif. Judges applauded policies set by the county’s Board of Supervisors that explicitly articulated the importance of maintaining IT during the economic downturn. As evidence of success, judges pointed to the county’s “tremendous” progress in consolidating facilities. They attributed this to the county’s transition of 1.5 million documents to Microsoft SharePoint, its deployment of cloud-based software, video conferencing infrastructure and the reduction of 85 physical servers.

“To top it off they figured out a way to radio 911 calls over a 9,000-foot mountain using a unified radio-over-IP communication network system,” Sander said.

The Digital Counties Survey awards will be handed out at a ceremony July 16 in Portland, Ore., in conjunction with the National Association of Counties’ annual conference.          

Below is a full list of the winners.

500,000 or more population:

1. Palm Beach County, Fla.

2. San Diego County, Calif.

3. Montgomery County, Md.

4. Oakland County, Mich.

4. Tulsa County, Okla.

5. Fairfax County, Va.

5. Hennepin County, Minn.

6. Prince George's County, Md.

7. Orange County, Fla.

8. County of Orange, Calif.

8. Westchester County, N.Y.

9. Fulton County, Ga.

9. King County, Wash.

9. Los Angeles County, Calif.

10. Anne Arundel County, Md.

10. Bexar County, Texas

250,000-499,999 population:

1. Washoe County, Nev.

2. Dakota County, Minn.

3. Chesterfield County, Va.

4. Douglas County, Colo.

4. Washtenaw County, Mich.

5. Dutchess County, N.Y.

5. Horry County, S.C.

6. Loudoun County, Va.

7. Placer County, Calif.

8. Clackamas County, Ore.

9. Guilford County, N.C.

9. Howard County, Md.

9. Leon County, Fla.

10. Hamilton County, Ind.

150,000-249,999 population:

1. Pueblo County, Colo.

2. Lackawanna County, Pa.

3. Arlington County, Va.

4. Sussex County, N.J.

5. Yuma County, Ariz.

6. Gaston County, N.C.

7. Cumberland County, Pa.

8. Doña Ana County, N.M.

9. Boone County, Mo.

9. St. Tammany Parish, La.

10. Hall County, Ga.

Less than 150,000 population:

1. County of Nevada, Calif.

2. County of Napa, Calif.

2. Roanoke County, Va.

3. Olmsted County, Minn.

4. Martin County, Fla.

5. County of Moore, N.C.

5. Pitkin County, Colo.

6. Charles County, Md.

7. Franklin County, Va.

7. Gloucester County, Va.

8. Columbia County, Ga.

9. County of Albemarle, Va.

10. Bay County, Mich.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor