January 26, 2005 By Evelina Moulder
Local governments respond to citizen requests for online services with a wide array of offerings, and plans for additional services are on the drawing boards, according to a recent survey on electronic government at the local level conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The survey covered a broad range of topics, such as e-government services delivered, funding, Web site management and intranet use.
This article highlights the survey results focused on external customers -- the residents and businesses in responding jurisdictions.
Of the local governments surveyed, all with populations of 25,000 or more have Internet connectivity, and most have high-bandwidth connections. Twenty-two local governments -- all with fewer than 25,000 residents -- lacked Internet connectivity altogether.
A disproportionate percentage of smaller local governments with connectivity use dial-up -- almost 17 percent of those with populations from 2,500 to 4,999 reported dial-up use, which has implications for staff. The amount of time government staff in these jurisdictions spend using the Internet for work is higher -- loading information with graphics and completing forms online will be a frustrating experience at best.
Now and Later
Local governments use Web sites for various reasons -- to share information, issue permits and market the community to potential investors. Web sites also can serve as important community forums.
On the Up and Up
Slightly more than 10 percent of local governments currently offer online completion and submission of permit applications. Scottsdale, Ariz., (population 202,705) not only makes the online permit process available at convenient terminals throughout the city, it also offers on its Web site a home improvement workbook, guidelines and checklists.
Scottsdale linked permit applications to GIS services, so property and zoning information is automatically populated in the permit forms. Soon, Federal Emergency Management Agency flood data and digital plan submittal will be integrated as well.
To alleviate any confusion about the permit process, a detailed flowchart shows each step in the process. Most Scottsdale residents interested in cases going to public hearing (Planning Commission, City Council, etc.) visit the Web site for fact sheets, where application materials, staff reports and hearing minutes are posted.
"By weaving together our Web services with our internal databases and applications, we've increased efficiency, improved customer communication, reduced administrative costs and improved customer service," explained Beckye Frey, Planning and Development Services customer relations specialist. "While the benefits of e-services are easy to see, we are committed to providing excellent services to all our residents, not just the ones who are Web-savvy. To that end, we tend to use a combination of old and new methods, such as the pairing of notification postcards with case fact sheets. For Scottsdale, the combination is a winning one."
The survey revealed interesting data about local governments' future plans to offer online transactions. Fifty percent or more of respondents intend to offer online payment of utility bills, fines or fees; completion and submission of permit applications and business license applications and renewals; online requests for records and services; registration for recreation activities and events; downloadable forms; GIS and mapping data; employment information; council agendas and minutes; and codes and ordinances.
The reports of future plans show smaller local governments taking advantage of online technology:
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