Archive for Wednesday, April 5, 2006

County plunges head-first onto World Wide Web

April 5, 2006

Leavenworth County's official presence on the Internet is expanding.

For instance, need to look at a parcel of property's legal description, its appraised value and who owns it?

That's on the county's Internet site:

Curious to see aerial views that cover every inch of the county?

Wondering what school district, fire district, water district and taxing district a particular piece of rural property is in? Those facts, too, are on the county's Web site.

And, according to Larry Malbrough, the county's director of information systems, there's more to come.

For instance, in December, county commissioners gave thumbs up to publish approved commission meeting minutes on the site.

Malbrough said he'll start soon by putting minutes from the most recent meetings on the county's Web site. And, as time allows and if there appears to be public interest, minutes from earlier

commission meetings could be added, he said.

This could be helpful to all county taxpayers, as well as to county employees who are unable to attend commission meetings, Malbrough said.

"Because even working here (in the courthouse), we often wonder what took place 20 feet from us," Malbrough said.

Malbrough said the site could advertise positions that are open.

"The sheriff's office has some employment-related things they can get going on the Web to try and get some more employment applications going," Malbrough said.

And, the Internet's quick publishing capability could be a boon to the county's health department in the event of a bioterrorism alert, Malbrough said.

An area of the county that has a wealth of information that can be used on the Internet is the county's mapping department, which utilizes Geographic Information Systems to link maps to digital data.

While the GIS department will continue selling maps, director Jeff Culbertson said the department will expand the number of maps that are available for free, online.

"Say someone is interested in buying a piece of property and they'd like to know what power company, phone company, how far they are from a fire station -- all those maps will be made available on the GIS Web page," Culbertson said.

And, the county's maps are up to date.

"We make approximately 7,000 map changes a year," Culbertson said. "It's everything from a change in a water district boundary to a new subdivision going in to splitting property for a new road."

The GIS's page includes detailed aerial photos of the entire county. This is vastly different from the GIS department's Web page of a year ago.

"Basically it was just a passive Web page that said if you want a map you can go to the county courthouse," Culbertson said. "And now we're going to have some maps that you can view just by clicking on the link on the Web page."

Blog time

Chris Dunn, the county's director of planning and zoning, wanted so much to create a way to reach taxpayers on the Internet that he created his own online blog.

A blog is a journal that is frequently updated. On his planning and zoning blog, Dunn includes minutes of planning commission meetings, as well as links to articles about the county's growth and development.

"We're big believers in using the 'Net because it's kind of a two-way street," Dunn said. "The more information we can put out and make available to our public, the better informed they are and hopefully the happier they are. And, we get a lot of feedback off of information we put up there. Any time you can get feedback from the public it helps you do your job a little better."

Dunn, who has worked for the county for about one year, said his blogsite filled a need.

"When I first arrived, there wasn't a good mechanism where a county department head could jump up and get on the computer and put a document on the Web where everybody could get to it quickly."

Dunn has used his blogsite in reporting on commission meetings where the proposed turnpike access road was discussed.

"I was preparing a map live in the county commission room, and as that was being done we generated a document and 10 minutes later I had it on the blog," Dunn said. "It's pretty heady stuff, to be able to get information that was just occurring at a public meeting to be up where anybody in the world can get at it right away."

And, Dunn said it only takes about an hour a week to update the blog site.

"It's fun for me, plus it's a way where if you are interested in knowing what's going on in the county you can really keep up on things," Dunn said. "If you follow the blogs and if I get the time to keep the blogs up to date, hey, you're going to know just about as much about what's going on as I do."

Dunn said the Internet is increasingly becoming a valuable resource tool, for himself, as well as for others.

"This is kind of the world I live in," Dunn said. "When I'm at home I spend an hour on the Internet every night, learning, researching things. It's kind of nice to have that capability here at the county."

Going, going, gone

A year ago, the county began selling surplus items on eBay, an online auction site.

Now, said county counselor Keyta Kelly, the county uses the site,

The items also are listed on the county's Web site.

A recent look showed the county was selling a Bronco vehicle, a garage door and an armored all-terrain 6-wheel-drive vehicle. The item description noted that the vehicle does not run and that the Leavenworth County Sheriff's decal must be removed before the item was sold.

Kelly said the armored vehicle sold for $8,888 to a man in California.

The online sales have been profitable for the county.

Kelly said about $10,000 in sales were made on eBay. And on the surplus auction site, close to $60,000 worth of items have sold.

"I think that's great," Kelly said. "It's stuff that was just not being used otherwise."

And she said, it's easy to list the items.

"Just a couple of clicks and it's on there," Kelly said.

Because of Leavenworth County's success with the online sales, Kelly said Shawnee County plans to start a similar project.

Kelly is hoping other counties will join, as well. In fact, she taught a seminar on it at a November Kansas Association of Counties meeting and handed out information.

But currently, she noted, Leavenworth County is the only Kansas county using the public service auction site to sell unused equipment.

"I think that the more counties and cities and school districts get on it, the more we'll be selling because people will go online to buy something," Kelly said.

A revenue-builder

Leavenworth County appraiser Donna Graf said her department's site makes money for the county.

On the appraiser's department page, users may link to a free site that provides basic information about every property in the county.

This provides the owners' names, a legal description of the property and appraisal values. Searches may be conducted in various ways, including the owners' names, the property's address, value, description and commercial or residential.

The appraiser's site also includes a subscription page, where banks and Realtors pay $250 a year to access.

"The free site just has the values," Graf said. "The other (the subscription site) has every data characteristic. You can run selections."

For instance, Graf said, she can run a search looking for all the houses on a particular street, or for all the two-bedroom houses.

And, it's a bargain for the subscribers, Graf said, because one subscription would cover everyone who works in a business.

"We currently have 63 subscribers," Graf said noting that generates $15,750.

"We actually make money on the Web site," Graf said. "We put it into a technology fund, not just for our department."

A learning curve

And Larry Malbrough, one of those responsible for the progress, is pretty much self-taught in Web design.

Malbrough designed the county's Web site five or six years ago.

"Lately we had department heads express that they wanted the Web site overhauled," Malbrough said. "We were looking at the money it would cost to outsource it. I said let's see what we can do in-house."

So, Malbrough began increasing his Web technology knowledge.

"I learn by reading," Malbrough said. "You know what you want to get done, so you learn how to get that done. The Web is a great resource too -- using the Internet to learn how to use the Internet -- it's kind of an irony."

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