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County considers virtual office

January 18, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

In a few years, people conducting business with Washington County might not need to stop by in person or wait for vital documents to be delivered through the mail.

Instead, they could do business via the Internet, county Data Processing Supervisor Ronald Whitt told the County Commissioners this week.

Washington County employees are expected soon to have Internet access when a fiber optic cable running from county buildings in downtown Hagerstown is connected to the Washington County Free Library network.

Whitt said that the online environment could lead to a 24-hour "virtual office." For example, developers would be able to apply electronically for a building permit on a Saturday afternoon, he said. Someone could send a message to the county complete with credit card numbers for purchases, he said.

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"You're seeing a lot of companies doing that right now" on their Web pages, he said.

"I think this is going to be an exciting time for us," Whitt said.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Internet access also would enable the county Web page to be more interactive. Now, messages posted to the page must be printed out and delivered from the library, which hosts the page, to the County Administration Building.

Whitt said that within the next few months, 30 to 50 of the 400 county employees using computers on the job probably will have Internet access.

The access will be free to the county as a result of an agreement involving the county, city and library and thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Whitt said. The county would need to pay only for browsing software at $30 to $40 per computer, he said.

Once the software is installed, people around the world could contact county officials by using e-mail.

Guidelines for Internet use have not been formulated, and Whitt said the Internet does have pornography that employees potentially could download.

"We don't want people to get smut or go playing on county time," he said.

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