New county Web site should make access to public info easier

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The directions are a snap.

Turn on the computer, bring up the Internet, type in www.marion. kansasgov.com, and discover a new Web site designed to make access to public information at the Marion County courthouse as easy as the click of a computer mouse.

“We are really looking forward to this being a convenient tool for all of us,” said Dianna Carter, Marion County appraiser.

Carter and Jeannine Bateman, Marion County treasurer, met in mid June to spread the news to area journalists about the newest communication tool in the county offices-a Marion County Government Web site.

“At this point, we are not on the search engine,” Carter said on June 16. “I’m not sure it’s even up yet. You’re going to have to know the Web site address.”

The new Web site allows visitors to get updated information about other county offices, such as the clerk of the district court, health department and register of deeds.

For the past three years, a select committee and staff at the courthouse have been working to compile a Web site to get courthouse information on the Internet.

“We just actually signed the contract with the company that put the Web site together for us,” Carter said.

“So really, it just became available.”

If the earth trembles ever-so-slightly around the courthouse the beginning of July, that’s because more information will be added to the Web site.

“I think everyone in the courthouse is excited about it-the excitement has been really building,” Carter said.

Beginning July 1, citizens can access appraisal information on all properties in Marion County-about 12,000 of them-for the current and previous year. They will also be able to pull up public tax information.

Prior to establishing a county-government Web site, the information could be obtained over the phone or by visiting the courthouse in person.

“It’s just going to be a really good communication device,” Carter said.

“And it’s going to free up a lot of time in our office, because people will be able to use it in the convenience of their home or office, and look this information up without having to call or come in.”

Bateman said she expects additional bonuses in her department. Those taxpayers who have misplaced the tax information sent out by her department can find it online.

“So you can go in and see how much your taxes are,” she said. “But it won’t say if they are paid or unpaid-that’s not provided.”

At a Web site-user conference in Topeka last year, Bateman and other county representatives saw a demonstration of a government Web site that had more to offer than previously expected for the county site.

“Using the information we had, we saw that we could go from a plain-Jane Web site, with basic information, to something similar to a site in Johnson County,” Bateman said.

While Marion County is not one of the first counties in the state to have a site, they’re not stragglers in the race to add this communication tool.

The larger counties, such as Sedgwick, Johnson and Shawnee, have had successful government Web sites up and running for a long time, Carter said.

And the success-statistics from the other counties appears to be encouraging, she said.

“Other counties, who have already started a Web site with a parcel search, love it. The traffic in one county office went down 60 percent.”

The Marion County homepage graphics includes a digital color photo of the historic courthouse bathed in a periwinkle-blue Kansas sky.

On the left-hand side of the page, visitors will be able to click on county-office links to access public information.

Once inside, they will find a disclaimer about the Kansas Open Records Act and can then continue to obtain the information they seek.

A visit on the appraiser’s office link includes information available in the Appraisal Guide published by the Hillsboro Free Press and available at businesses around the county beginning in March of each year.

“We will probably have two levels,” Carter said.

“One level will just be the information that you see in the appraisal guide-which is the name, an identification number, legal description, class of the property and the appraised value.”

The second will be information about each parcel, such as the square footage of the house, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

“That is very beneficial to realtors and people who might be looking at the property to purchase it,” Carter said.

The tax-search link will pull up the parcel owner, mortgage lender, parcel-identification number and total tax dollars.

Those taxes can be paid online at the new Web site, using a debit-card E-check or credit card.

Each March, parcel-value information is updated and will appear on the Web site.

Staff in the county offices plan to update general information on a weekly basis.

“Other county offices will update their information periodically for deadlines that might be coming up and things going on within the county,” Carter said.

The new parcel-and tax-search links available in July will not require pre-registration or any passwords.

If visitors to the site see a
place to register and enter a password, they can ignore that. It’s for certified fee appraisers only-to access additional parcel information necessary to complete their duties.

Access to any personal or financial information can be a touchy subject for those who try to guard their private lives.

Carter and Bateman stressed they do not see the new Web site as a means of finding out sensitive information about a neighbor, friend or family member.

“It’s public information,” Carter said.

“You can always find out what the value is on a property and what the taxes are. We’re all part of this tax base. So when you see what other properties are valued at, it helps you.”

Working with a Web site in its early phase, Carter and Bateman said they were looking forward to adding more information in the future.

A motor-vehicle tax search is eventually coming to the Web site.

“If you’re contemplating buying a vehicle, you could find out (online) what the taxes would be,” Bateman said.

“I think some people will use the tax information, but almost everyone trades vehicles sometime in their life and will want to use that.”

Carter said it was important to let people know they will still be able to come to the appraiser’s officer or call and get the information they need. They don’t have to use the Web site.

“We realize there are a lot of people who still do not use the Internet. And they’re going to be doing this the conventional way. But we’re still here to serve everyone.”

Bateman and Carter extended an invitation to the county community-to go online, browse the new Web site, and e-mail or call with suggestions or comments.

“Everyone worked on it, and we’re all excited about it,” Carter said.

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