Janesville21.2°

Municipal Web sites keep residents informed, improve efficiency

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Kayla Bunge
April 12, 2010
— Several years ago, City Clerk Diana Dykstra was flooded with requests for meeting agendas and minutes and the City Hall staff were flooded with questions about parking, beach and boat launch hours and building permits.

Few city staff members had computers; several still were using typewriters. City Hall was not equipped with Internet access, and city officials did not use e-mail.


About four years ago, the city launched its first Web site.


The requests and questions died down, but Dykstra and the City Hall staff still were swamped.


In January, the city went live with a new and improved site, www.cityoflakegeneva.com, and the response so far has been positive.

“We don’t get public records requests for agendas or minutes anymore,” Dykstra said. “Some people don’t have access to a computer and still call or come in, but most people can find the basic information online.


“We’re pressed for time. Many people in the city are in the same predicament. We hope this (information now posted online) could save them that trip to City Hall.”


Lake Geneva is among several local municipalities that recently launched new Web sites. Officials told the Gazette they aimed to create sites that contain important and current information in an easy-to-use format.


“I just believe when somebody comes to a municipal Web site, they’re looking to answer a questions; they’re not there to browse around and enjoy and look at the site,” said Sandra Teal, programmer/analyst for Rock County, which launched a new site in February. “We wanted to answer those questions as quickly and simply as we could.”


A couple clicks of the mouse

Lake Geneva city staff wanted to use the Internet not only to cut down on the number of calls and trips residents and visitors had to make to City Hall, but also to become more efficient.


“We wanted to provide an avenue where the public could log on and find the basics,” Dykstra said.


The city’s old Web site, developed by a small company out of Williams Bay, was limited in its size and capabilities.


“There was still some frustration with obtaining information,” Dykstra said. “We couldn’t keep up with the requests, and we didn’t have the money set aside to pay someone to put things online.”


The city’s new Web site, www.cityoflakegneva.com a template from GovOffice—which bills itself as the No. 1 provider of affordable, customizable local government sites—is far more comprehensive.

The site now includes such information as:


-- Agendas and minutes for all city council and committee meetings, including the same packet that city council members receive for each meeting


-- Licenses and permits


-- Audits


-- Ordinances


-- Maps


The site also includes a link to the local weather forecast and an application that allows people to pay their parking tickets online.


“Every day we’re adding new stuff when we realize, ‘Oh, this would be nice to have online,’” Dykstra said.


The new site even allows people to contact city staff using a request form that is directed to the staff member best suited to answer the questions. It also provides city council members with a city e-mail address.


Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier, chairwoman of the communications committee, which oversees the city Web site, said the site aims to help residents and visitors find the information they need with only a few clicks of a mouse.


“It’s much more user-friendly,” she said. “The major headings across the top and broken out down the side make it much easier to use and navigate.”


Fesenmaier said the site has a lot of potential. She said she would like to see the city consider getting e-mail addresses from residents to send them important news and announcements or having the city administrator write an online newsletter.


The city paid about $3,500 for its new Web site and about $1,000 to get it up and running.



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