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Stevens County launches new website

Stevens County has a newly redesigned and rebuilt county website that incorporates notifications features, social networking and online access to county records.

Scott Busche, Facilities/IT Director for Stevens County, said updating the website had been on his project list since he was hired with Stevens County at the end of 2007, but took a backseat to other more pressing issues until after the county moved back into the renovated courthouse in December, 2010. The board formally approved the new website project in February, 2011.

"The old webpage was built when Y2K was happening," said Busche. "Three different interns worked on it. It was kind of a mess, and it was kind of a pain to update. We really didn't update it unless we had to."

After the new website project was approved, it moved quickly. The county contracted with a company called Civic Plus, which offers templates and software for developing and maintaining local government websites. For $9,800, the county received set-up, development, and training for the site through Civic Plus. Other Civic Plus clients include a number of major cities and counties, including the City of St. Paul.

"If you think about the amount of time it would cost us to develop this in-house, and the man hours that we would have to put into it, this was still going to be cheaper than that," said Busche. "I think we got a better looking product in the end, too."

One challenge for the project has been finding the time to work on it. Busche is both the IT director and facilities manager for Stevens County, which puts developing website content on the back burner.

However, the website software does allow other users to take charge and update their own content on their portion of the site. Busche complimented Bill Kleindl of the Environmental Services department for "hitting the ground running" with the project.

Kleindl said he isn't an expert in updating the site and sometimes finds adding information cumbersome, but has had calls in the past from county residents asking for information that wasn't available on the old site.

"I feel like it makes my job easier, if I don't have to scan in documents and send them to people, I can just send a link," Kleindl said.

This far, Kleindl has used his page to announce upcoming solid waste and hazardous waste collection dates, as well as for links to relevant documents, permits, and information about county services and regulations.

In addition to more robust county department sites, the new website also incorporates more social features and notification options.

"There's a ton of different features this [site] has that one we developed ourselves wouldn't necessarily have," said Busche.

Busche highlighted the website's Notify Me feature, which offers email or text message notifications for emergency and weather alerts, job postings, news releases, calendar events, and meeting notifications. These categories can also grow as the website evolves.

"This is a great way for people who don't go to the website regularly to stay in the loop," said Busche.

A couple years ago, the county invested in a document imaging system, Alchemy, which is also available online. Users can access county board meeting minutes back to 1884, and meeting agendas and packets for the last few years. These documents update continuously.

The website also offers Facebook integration to connect with residents familiar with social media campaigns. Busche said the Facebook page will automatically update from changes to the website.

In 2012, Busche said he hopes to integrate GIS mapping data into the website - information he said he is called about frequently by local businesses and real estate agents. The county's 2012 preliminary budget currently includes allocations for a new GIS department.

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