New city website aims for user-friendliness

Like a new homeowner excited to show off his recent acquisition, Hillsboro City Administra?tor Larry Paine is anxious for people to visit the city?s new home on the Web.

The new website?launched about three weeks ago?features a clean, friendly look, including a colorful banner with rotating photos that highlight various aspects of the community.

But ask Paine what truly excites him about the new site, he?s likely to give you a three-fold answer.

?It?s easy to use, it?s easy to use, it?s easy to use,? he said. ?The new website will enable us to connect with the citizens in the community in a way we haven?t been able to before.?

One major improvement from the city?s perspective is the immediacy of communication, according to Paine.

?The old site used an archaic design, which meant that when we wanted something to go up there, we?d create it, we?d call our webmaster, send him the document and it?s up to the webmaster to put it online for us,? he said. ?It?s inconvenient because we?d have to wait until it?s convenient for him to do that.

?The design process now is flexible enough that I can write a story in the next five minutes and have it posted live for everybody to see when I finish writing it.?

That feature could prove valuable to citizens in an emergency situation or to explain the cause of power outages or other utility inconveniences.

?We could have something up that fast,? he said.

Paine likes other features found on the home page, such as individual pages for each city department, city council business, Hillsboro Development Corp., visitor attractions and contact information.

Along the side is a calendar of community events, the day?s weather forecast and a link to Paine?s personal blog called, ?City Hall Corner.?

Paine particularly likes the ?How Do I?? menu that anticipates frequently asked questions about city services and responsibilities.

Currently, the menu includes six questions: Get help outside of office hours? Contact city hall? Serve on a community board? Get a contractor?s license? Register to vote? Pay a ticket?

But Paine has identified 22 questions he hopes to list in the future, ranging from the city?s recycling program to finding a job.

Paine said city customers eventually will be able to pay their utility bill online, as well as traffic tickets and recreation and other fees.

?That?s one of the things we?re working toward,? he said. ?The process of working with our new credit-card company is that they want to know if a website is up and running and working before we go through that process.

?One of the reasons we put (the website) up early is so we can take that next step,? he added. ?The company that does that has to review our website protocols to make sure everything is ?safe.? Then we can get it up and running.?

A growing process

Like a new house that only has a finished exterior, walls and floor covering in place, the city?s new site still has a lot of ?interior furnishings? to move in.

In several cases, information categories have been created, but the actual information isn?t available.

?It?s working, but we have a lot of things to fill in,? Paine said of the site. ?It?s going to be a growing process for us.?

Behind the scenes

The project was spearheaded by an inhouse design committee that included Paine and staff members Clint Seibel and Glenda Stoppel.

Paine said the committee reviewed a variety of municipal websites in search of elements that would be helpful to incorporate. Newton?s site was particularly useful, he said.

The actual builder of Hills?boro?s site is David Baker of Baker Brothers Printing.

?What we?re doing is, we?re using a local business to do what we?re doing,? Paine said.

?The thing that is probably the best experience we?ve had, has been working with David in getting this thing together,? he added. ?He?s an absolute delight.

?We?d say, ?Hey, David, this is what we?re thinking, do you know how to do that?? He?d say, ?I don?t know, I?ll find out.? Then we?d get an e-mail back saying, ?Hey guys, this is how we do it.? And we go on from there.?

The cost of the project has been about $2,000 so far. Paine said the cost may grow ?by a few shekels? as more elements are added.

Keeping things fresh

Paine said he knows that making citizens aware of the new site and its benefits will take time and intention.

?We?ve just started putting the website address on city vehicles,? he said. ?When utility bills go out, we can add a yellow highlight: ?Check out the website.??

He anticipates the site may include an interactive contest once in a while just for fun.

?From our perspective, the ability to keep things fresh on the website will be the key point,? Paine said. ?We?ve not been able to do that before.?

Though the site is a work in progress, Paine said he likes the direction it?s heading. And he is open to suggestions.

?I?m sure there will be people who will be able to find more flexible municipal home pages,? he said. ?If they tell us what they are, we?ll try to copy them.?

To view the new site, visit cityofhillsboro.net.

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