Where will rural counties find the money for technology?
I think a lot of times technology can slow the need for more employees. So sometimes you don't need to replace employees lost through attrition when [you] use the technology tools available.
A good example is how we use imaging technology in our County Assessor's Office for all personal property declarations. We eliminated two positions that worked year-round alphabetizing these personal property declarations.
Our county's growing, but we're not adding employees. We've invested in technology because we recognize the larger cost is investing in people. Yes, you have to upgrade and things change so fast that you sometimes think, 'I just bought that system.' But you can do a cost/benefit analysis and see right away technology is the better way to go.
Also, citizens are requiring it. My community is a college town, so we have a very educated population. They're expecting more and more services all the time.
Do elected county leaders view technology as fundamental to government operations?
Absolutely. It's a critical part of the strategic plan for Boone County. Moving to imaging, allowing people to search online for copies of documents at the County Recorder's Office -- we've been doing that for about two years now. But that's because we have very aggressive elected officials.
They're active, and they know how to reach out and solve the problems. That's why I said sometimes you have to take on the responsibility of reaching out on your own. But it's hard for a rural county to invest the money to send someone to a meeting when they can't even buy a computer to put on their desk.
How important is grant funding to counties?
I think that is so critical. One of my goals has been to find a program we could provide as a member service to rural communities that would allow them to search for grants, and have some kind of guidelines about how to apply for grants -- a template of information.
Then we found that the federal government was creating a Web site that all 35 of its granting agencies will feed information into. All of their stuff has to be in one place, online by October -- and that doesn't cost anything.
We're working with them. I testified before Congress about this, because they needed to recognize that they can't require people to apply for the grants online. If it's a long distance phone call to access the Internet, you need to download the document, fill it out and upload it. Otherwise, you're putting an undue burden on those people in rural America.
These were things they hadn't even thought about -- most people don't. If you live in town, you don't even consider it. But it is a real problem. We would be taking away the opportunity for rural communities to even access funds.
If you had to choose one accomplishment for the next year, what would it be?
I want to get a rural agenda in the presidential campaign platform. If you can get candidates to identify with rural issues when they're campaigning and say these are the things we believe rural America needs, it's pretty hard for them not to support rural initiatives if they become elected.
But the only way that can happen is through a coalition of rural organizations. It's not just NACo wanting this. It's all sectors of rural America recognizing that these things need to be protected or improved or changed for [rural America] to stay viable.