What’s New in Civic Tech: Detroiters Pay Taxes Via Kiosks

Plus, San Jose, Calif., looks to approve initial funding for broad digital equity work; Indiana’s Management Performance Hub releases its annual report; new Code for America brigades to launch; and more.

by / February 14, 2019
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Wayne County, Mich., which is home to Detroit, has deployed a new kiosk-based system for property tax payment that allows its residents to pay their bills over time, rather than in one lump sum. 

Local media reported on the kiosk system this week, which is relatively simple. The kiosks, of which there are more than 50 located throughout the city in places like Rite Aid stores, allow residents to pay their taxes with cash, thereby avoiding having to pay through a mortgage company. These kiosks have been active in Detroit since 2016, when the program launched with kiosks in 24 places. 

That number has now increased, and a map of kiosk locations can be found here. Also, Wayne County residents can now put away money toward their property taxes throughout the summer and winter seasons, chipping away at large property tax bills if they so choose, rather than having to pay all of their taxes in one lump sum. This program was first created to make it easier for residents who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards to pay their taxes with actual cash without having to make a trip in person to downtown city hall.

This is not the first deployment of bill-paying kiosks in Wayne County. The county has also made it so that residents can pay their water bills and sewage costs to the county in cash without incurring an inconvenient trip or an extra fee. The kiosks are spread throughout the city, located in governmental offices as well as in grocery and drug stores too.

San Jose, Calif., Looks to Approve Initial Funding for Broad Digital Equity Work

San Jose, Calif. is looking to step up its digital equity efforts. 

The city is doing so, local media reports, by emphasizing efforts to support the Digital Inclusion Fund, informed as it was by feedback from students who were struggling to get the access to technology needed in order to thrive in school. Now, the city council in San Jose is looking to partner with the California Emerging Technologies Fund in order to raise money for an initial round of grants that would total $1 million. 

In addition to grant-making, this digital equity effort is likely to include support for computer lab classes for local students as well as for their parents, wherein participants will learn about Internet safety and other increasingly vital subject matter for the modern world. In addition, San Jose’s digital equity efforts seek to expand access to the Internet for residents. An estimated 95,000 households in the city do not currently have it. 

Other digital inclusion efforts that could be bolstered by the fund include expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in public gathering spaces, increased hardware checkouts at the public library and even potential private-sector partnerships with local tech companies. 

The fund is supported in part by broadband companies that have paid small cell usage fees in order to update city infrastructure. The aforementioned California Emerging Technologies fund that the city is also partnering with was created as a public benefit in 2005 out of corporate mergers that involved industry giants AT&T and Verizon. 

Indiana’s Management Performance Hub Releases Its Annual Report

Indiana’s Management Performance Hub (MPH) has released its 2018 annual report, wherein Indiana Chief Data Officer Darshan Shah and other internal agency stakeholders present info about the successes of data-driven work in the state.

This report is the culmination of an 18-month effort that saw the performance hub team building culture change, internal relationships and a data-driven framework. The goal in Indiana has been — as it is for many other state governments — to create lasting ways to leverage governmental data as an asset, be it through driving governmental decision-making or through fostering trust with the public. As Shah notes in the report’s introduction, the MPH nationally stands alone as a sole independent state agency aimed at creating a data-driven culture throughout its 70 internal partner agencies. 

MPH first become codified as an independent agency in July 2017 via the Indiana Open Data Act. The hub, according to the report, has yielded a return on investment of more than $4.50 for every $1 from taxpayers, which totals an $18 million overall savings benefit for the state. The work done by MPH has been related to combating the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic with data, Medicaid optimization and the creation of a transparency portal in partnership with the state auditor’s office, among other things. 

Looking ahead, the report notes that anticipated priorities for 2019 will include education/workforce needs for the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, continuing to combat the opioid epidemic and streamlining access to government services via technology.

Code for America Continues to Launch New Brigades Across the Country

Code for America has continued to launch new brigades across the country in recent months, with chapters now located in diverse places ranging from southern Indiana to Fresno, Calif.

Code for America, for the uninitiated, is a nonprofit and nonpartisan group aimed at helping government find ways to use technology to better serve its constituents. The brigade program is essentially a satellite network of local groups that seek to do the same thing in their individual communities. With the most recent additions, there are now 71 total brigades spread throughout the U.S.

The first new addition to Code for America’s brigade network is called Code for Kentuckiana, and it’s located in Louisville, Ky., with a wider reach throughout southern Indiana as well. That chapter’s first meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 9, and interested parties can sign up here. On the other side of the country, another new brigade has sprung up in California’s Central Valley, specifically in Fresno. Dubbed Code for Fresno, that group’s first meeting is slated for Feb. 28.

This expansion comes after a $2 million investment from the Knight Foundation in August to support the next phase of brigade development. A blog from Code for America at the time noted that the support from the Knight Foundation for the brigade network would go toward “expanding its capacity and establishing advisory councils to amplify its impact within communities.”

In addition, the money would enable the group to create a redesigned fellowship model with a “deeply local focus.” 

Incubator Launches in Dallas to Support Urban Transformation Through Technologies

The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (The DEC), a nonprofit group aimed at driving innovation by helping businesses grow and get started, has announced a new smart cities incubator to be housed in its flagship West End location.

The project, dubbed the Innov8te Smart Cities Incubator, involves a wide range of collaborators from many sectors, including AT&T, Cisco, Microsoft, the University of Texas at Dallas and the Dallas Innovation Alliance. In a statement, Alyce Alston, CEO of the DEC, said her group is “thrilled to support the great work that the Dallas Innovation Alliance has done in partnership with the City of Dallas and its collaborators through the Smart Cities Living Lab and the Dallas Innovation District.”

The incubator is essentially taking a regional approach to bolstering the tech ecosystem within the city, with its stated mission of supporting and highlighting companies focused on building tech products related to data analytics and visualization, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented or virtual reality.

Startups participating in the incubator will get exclusive access to educational programs, mentoring, networking events, programming, services and connections to larger corporations. There will also be new programs and events that are open to the broader Dallas community offered through the incubator.

Interested parties can find more information, as well as applications to participate, here.

Little Rock, Ark., Hosts Second Annual Open Data Day

Little Rock, Ark., is preparing for its second annual open data day, which gives members of the community a chance to learn more about the city’s open data efforts.

The event is slated for 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., March 2 at the Willie L. Hinton Neighborhood Resource Center in Little Rock, and it will include info about how to better access data sets such as the number of potholes in a certain area, how frequent certain code violations are in certain parts of the city, planning permits that have been issued, and the always popular police activity data.

The event is open to anyone who is interested, including residents, students and members of the media. Participants will learn more about Little Rock’s open data portal, its Citizen Connect program and its mapping applications sites, all through a series of hands-on activities such as data scavenger hunts.

“All you need to bring is your tablet or laptop and your curiosity and join us for our Second Annual Open Data Day event in Little Rock,” Melissa Bridges, the city’s performance and innovation coordinator, told local media. “It is an opportunity to reach more of our community and teach them about the information resources they have available and potentially build new, innovative solutions to issues in our city using open data.”

Interested parties can register for the event here.

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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