Kent Web Hits Just Keep On Coming

    GRAND RAPIDS — AccessKent is being accessed in a big way.

    The official Web site of Kent County had 6.4 million pages viewed, 289,000 documents downloaded, and 1.1 million visits last year. Page views in 2003 jumped by 153 percent from 2002, while visits to the site rose by 23 percent last year from the previous year.

    “There has been a substantial growth in activity on the Web site,” said Joann Arcand, AccessKent general manager and an employee of Michigan Live Interactive (MLI), which built, operates and maintains the site.

    Six applications were added last year and visitors can download more than 800 PDF documents from the site.

    AccessKent really began to take off in October of 2002. Over 90,000 visits were made to the site that month when the online property module made its debut. Visits reached 95,000 in August of 2003 when the deeds search became available.

    Arcand recently told county commissioners that all Kent departments are participating in AccessKent. But the department that has benefited the most from cyberspace transactions is the Register of Deeds office.

    “It has really cut down traffic to the Registrar of Deeds office,” said Arcand.

    County Clerk Mary Hollinrake agreed. She oversees deeds, vital records and the circuit court clerk’s office, three departments that normally serve 1,500 walk-in customers each week. With just two of those departments online, Hollinrake said she has already seen a noticeable decline in traffic at the county building and without a loss of business activity.

    “It benefits not only the users because they don’t have to leave their home; it also benefits the walk-in customers because they don’t have to contend with the crowds,” she said of those requesting vital records, a department that will be imaged this summer.

    Hollinrake said the site was even a bigger time-saver for the Registrar of Deeds office. Title searches, going back to 1989, can be accessed at home or the office. By this time next year, Hollinrake said the application would contain transactions that go back to 1970.

    “We recorded 253,000 documents last year and that came out to 1.5 million images,” she said, adding that the average mortgage now runs five pages compared to two pages a decade ago.

    With less foot traffic, Hollinrake said the county is also reaping some payroll savings. The registrar’s office has had up to seven temporary workers at times and the department has worked overtime almost every week.

    “As of the middle of June, I ended all overtime and all temporary staff. So now we are back to our normal people. This is the first time in three years that we haven’t had overtime and temps of some sort,” she said, while noting that the staff is now making double entries and capturing 85 percent more data than three years ago.

    “I’m not letting go of any people at this moment because the volume of work is still very high in Kent County. But if I did not have this system and the online services, we would have overtime and we would have extra staff,” she said.

    Because MLI is the county’s contractor, Hollinrake said Kent saved $150,000 on installing the deeds-imaging and vital-records-imaging systems. A vendor told the county that modules for both would cost $75,000 each. But with MLI handling the Web site, the deeds imaging went up under contract and the vital-records system will do the same in June.

    AccessKent will be redesigned soon and up to 10 more applications will be added to it this year. Among those are a business name search and registration and a court name search.

    Testing is underway on the court name search, which will give visitors entry to the circuit court’s case management system. Once it’s up and running — the target date is April 1 — access to all civil and criminal cases will be available, except for those labeled confidential. Names searches can be done and a register of actions can be ordered online.

    “Court name search is really expected to be a huge time-saver for attorneys. There are also a lot of companies, not just necessarily Kent County-based, that do background checks. So those people will be able to use this system, as well,” said Arcand.

    Work hasn’t started yet on the business name and registration application. But when it opens, people interested in filing a “doing business as,” or DBA, will be able to search for a business name throughout the county and then register a new name online.

    “It’s another busy year,” said Arcand.

    AccessKent was launched in July 2001.

    By September 2003, the Web site became a virtual winner as it was named the seventh-best site in the nation and the top site of its kind in the state from the 2003 Digital Counties Survey. The survey measured how counties use technology to improve services for businesses and residents. The national competition had 150 entrants.

    “Our goal is to apply technology where it can benefit the most people in our county,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. “And we will continue to focus on building cost-effective eGovernment solutions that our citizens will use.”    

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