Fledgling AccessKent Is A Winner

    GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has the seventh-best Web site in the nation and the top site of its kind in the state. Yet, it’s still a work in progress.

    AccessKent.com was singled out for how it uses technology to improve services for businesses and citizens in the 2003 Digital Counties Survey, a national competition that featured 150 entrants. The Center for Digital Government, the National Association of Counties and Government Technology Magazine conducted the study.

    Kent tied for seventh place among counties with a population of 500,000 or greater.

    “Kent County is committed to using technology to get results, and we’re proud that our efforts to further enhance customer service have been singled out,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

    “Our goal is to apply technology where it can benefit the most people in our county, and we will continue to focus on building cost-effective e-government solutions that our citizens will use,” he added.

    Kent County went online in the late 1990s, but debuted AccessKent.com in April 2002. The site offers a number of interactive online transactions that include property and parcel lookups and deed searches.

    JoAnn Arcand, general manager for AccessKent, said the award acknowledges that the county has delivered enhanced services to its residents and recognizes the work that the county and its information technology department have done in a relatively short amount of time. David Boehm serves as Kent’s IT director.

    “Certainly, we couldn’t get very far if we didn’t have the support and backing from the board of commissioners. Then the IT department helps provide a very strong infrastructure on which to build the Web site,” said Arcand.

    No one at the county is sitting on their e-laurels in light of the award with regards to the site. In August, the county launched its deeds document retrieval system, giving the public 24-hour access to property records online instead of in line.

    Viewing the index is free. Printing costs $1 a page, plus a small fee, and credit card transactions are encrypted.

    “The new system will save money and time for individuals as well as businesses who, until now, could search and retrieve copies of these documents only by standing in line here at the county offices,” said County Clerk Mary Hollinrake.

    Arcand said the deed search was made possible through the clerk’s office’s new imaging system, which lets virtual visitors into the Register of Deeds directory. In addition to making things easier for title companies and Realtors, the service gives workers in the register’s office more time to process deeds. They processed 132,000 pages in August alone.

    “Less foot traffic will free us up for recording, indexing and scanning that continues at an amazing pace,” said Deputy Register Jerry Czaja.

    “I don’t think we’ve tapped into exactly how wonderful that application will be,” added Arcand. “We have several businesses that have opened monthly accounts. So instead of entering credit card information every time they need a document, they can sign in with their username and password and at the end of the month we send them an invoice.”

    Next up for AccessKent is current property tax information, along with tax assessing data. Arcand said that sector would be added as an enhancement to the property section. Meetings have just begun on adding a parks and recreation section, which will let residents make reservations online in county parks starting on Jan. 2. Another launching planned for next February will allow citizens and businesses to reserve dates at the John Ball Zoo.

    “There are many businesses that schedule company picnics there,” said Arcand.

    Michigan Live Interactive built, operates and maintains AccessKent.com for the county. MLI is a division of NIC, the largest provider of e-government services in the world.

    Arcand noted that the interactive aspect of the county’s portal was only one of two major features of the site. The other aspect, she said, was to get current and useful information to the public in a clear and timely manner.

    “We try not to minimize the importance of that,” said Arcand. “It’s a very important role for us to make sure that what is out on the Web site is as up-to-date as we can possibly make it.”      

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