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High-tech Hagerstown

City's five-year plan advances e-government

City's five-year plan advances e-government

November 03, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown residents can look forward to reserving a park pavilion or checking a utility bill payment - from home - under a five-year technology plan that's under way.

Pedestrians could stop at an outdoor computer screen to find a restaurant and check its daily specials.

Through wireless computer networks, police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city employees could tap into records while working in the field.

Scott Nicewarner, the city's information technology manager, outlined some of those ideas Tuesday for Mayor Richard F. Trump and the Hagerstown City Council.

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On Wednesday, Nicewarner said the plan is realistic and there's a tentative schedule for each part to happen.

Hagerstown, like many governments, he said, was slow to ride the technology wave, but the city is rapidly catching up.

"In the last two years, we have moved things on a breakneck pace," Nicewarner said.

The public might have noticed movement in March, when the city started accepting credit-card payments.

Then, the payment system went online. Residents now can pay bills at the city's Web site, through a system Nicewarner says is as secure as eBay, Amazon and other cyberbusinesses.

The city receives about 10 percent of its payments this way, he said.

More changes are coming, moving the city towards 24-hours-a-day service.

The five-year plan says this would improve communication between citizens and their government and would help the city collect money it is owed.

In the next three to six months, the city will post a page for residents to request bulk trash pickup, rent a park pavilion, report a code violation and do other things, Nicewarner said.

In about a year, utility customers will be able to look at their accounts and check payments and balances.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said her ears "perked" when she heard the proposal to have information kiosks in a variety of places, such as Fairgrounds Park and Public Square.

Nicewarner explained that the kiosks would be small computer terminals, possibly outdoors.

The terminals would be loaded with information on the city's amenities. People could search the database for places to shop, eat or drink.

The computer screens would not be connected to the Internet.

Nicewarner said Wednesday that the Center for Business and Training, a nonprofit group in Hagerstown, is working on giving local businesses free Web pages. The kiosk effort would tie into that.

Nicewarner said the first kiosk is on order and will arrive within a few weeks. After another few weeks of preparation, it probably will be set up for a trial run at the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau on Public Square, he said.

Nicewarner said a wireless network downtown is nearly ready for employees in the field to access city records information through remote computers.

He estimated that happening in three to six months.

Those ideas are part of the city's first-ever information technology plan, which runs through 2009.

One part of the plan is letting city employees make purchases less than $1,000 online and creating a paperless purchase order system, Nicewarner said.

The plan also calls for an aging, outdated Hewlett Packard system that the city uses for financial records to be replaced. HP stopped selling those minicomputers and will cut off technical support for the system at the end of 2006.

Disaster recovery also is in the plan.

Nicewarner said several information technology leaders from across the state will hold a summit next month. One idea, he said, is having distant municipalities agree to back up records for each other.

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