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May 15, 2013

Some towns still resist setting up websites

By JOE MAHONEY Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Two decades after the World Wide Web made it possible for just about anyone to create an Internet portal, some local governments lack websites that could be used to provide residents with information about their decisions, public services and events in their communities.

Officials in towns that have websites said they are easy to update and citizens have found them to be a convenient method to acquire contact information, agendas and minutes for public meetings.

Among communities that have no website is the Otsego County town of Richfield, home to about 2,300 residents. Richfield Town Supervisor Fran Enjem said he thinks the town should have its own presence on the Internet, but he has met resistance from other town officials, including Town Clerk Monica Harris.

“Even though I had somebody willing to set it up for us for nothing, they are worried about who is going to take care of it and how much it is going to cost,” Enjem said. “A lot of people in town don’t come to our board meetings. But I think there would be more interest in finding out about things if we had a website.”

Contacted by The Daily Star, Harris said: “At this moment, we’re not set up to do it.”

“It will be a lot of work, and once you set up a website, you’re required to maintain it and do those postings,” she added “I also said I do not have the qualifications to do that, and if the town wants to do it, they will need to find someone to maintain it.”

Hartwick Town Clerk Sarah McGuire said she learned to operate her town’s website “with little or no training.”

“For the stuff I do (posting minutes and updating the town calendar), it’s quite easy,” McGuire said. “It’s not tons of work. You just take a Word document, cut and paste it, then hit ‘save’ and it’s there — done. It’s that easy.”

Tavis Austin, an administrative assistant for Hartwick who also helps manage the website, said the portals run by his town and other towns “provide citizens with a lot of records that historically were not available.”

Hartwick’s site has been online for about seven years. The town is part of a consortium known as Digital Towpath, based in Barnevald, which provides websites and email systems to nearly 200 local governments in New York.

The project, supported by the Institute for Local Government at the State University Institute for Technology in Utica, began in 1999 with just eight towns in northern Oneida County.

Jeanne Brown, the project director for Digital Towpath, said the cooperative charges towns $612 a year for its services, which include website hosting, email and new modules for stormwater management and property assessment information. For an additional $200, towns may acquire an electronic records management system.

Lori Mithen-Demasi, spokeswoman for the state Association of Towns, said her organization assists towns in the development and maintenance of websites and points out the availability of the services offered by Digital Towpath. Her association does not take a position on whether towns should have websites, she said.

In Otsego County, south of the town of Richfield is the town of Exeter, with about 900 residents. It also has no website, although the town of Otsego, east of Exeter, does have one.

Otsego Town Clerk Pam Deane said the site is handy for citizens to learn about the local land use law, acquire applications for permits and to find out what is going on in town government. Minutes of board meetings, which must be maintained regardless of whether a town has a website, are posted online, providing citizens with a snapshot of what elected officials are discussing.

“It is a useful tool, and people have been using it,” Deane said. The site costs the town about $30 to $40 a month, she said.