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Tapping into local government, via the Internet

February 11, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - When Shepherdstown, W.Va., residents experienced a major disruption in public water service last year, the town's leaders made good use of its official Web site.

"It was our primary tool to get information out to the public," Town Clerk Amy Boyd said.

Launched in 2001, the town's Web page, like many government Web sites in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, has evolved from meager beginnings to become a valued source of public information. Only two municipalities in the Eastern Panhandle have no active virtual presence.

"We had 'under construction' signs on the Web site for so long, it was embarrassing," Boyd recalled of Shepherdstown site's beginnings.

Boyd, along with Chris Hutzler, the assistant chief operator of the town's water plant, now work together to improve the Web site, but she admitted it's a "fairly big job" and they have limited resources.

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"There's not as much information on it (as) I'd like to see," said Boyd. Goals include eventually posting the town's code and archiving features, she said.

Boyd was unable to say exactly how many people visit the town's Web site on a regular basis, but like many government leaders surveyed in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, she said she believes area residents most often view site links for planning department information, government meeting schedules, agendas and minutes.

In Charles Town, City Clerk Joe Cosentini said each department prepares its own agenda and puts it on the Web site, which debuted in 2003.

Like a number of town officials interviewed in the Eastern Panhandle, Cosentini said the amount of information available online and the ability to keep it updated is limited because of limited dedicated resources.

"We try to promote the Web site as much as possible," said Cosentini, noting "banners" now are posted on the town's home page for special announcements.

Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin acknowledged that his city's Web site was "basic," but said officials hope to make improvements this year.

"Every city should have a good Web site," Baldwin said.

Margie Allgyer, Town of Bath municipal clerk, said Friday that the Morgan County municipality's yet-to-be launched Web site was being designed and she could not say when it would be launched.

The status of Paw Paw's Web site was unclear, but town official Gina Brack said it was disabled last year after Julie Kidwell became mayor.

The town's Web site since has taken a back seat to other projects, including the first-ever Paw Paw Festival planned for this year, she said.

County officials in the Eastern Panhandle, meanwhile, are in varying stages of developing their Web sites.

Online broadcasts of Jefferson County Commission meetings launched last year seem to be "pretty popular," administrative assistant Laura Kuhn said.

Access to tax records in Jefferson and Berkeley counties is another popular Web site link, and Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Friday that county's deeds soon will be available as part of a feature known as the "virtual courthouse."

County leaders are reviewing the terms and conditions to be posted with the new information link, she said.

"The hope is that we can make as much information available online as possible," Hammond said of the county's Web site, which debuted in 2001 and has received statewide recognition.

In Morgan County, Administrator William R. Clark said he hoped to avoid making Web site maintenance a full-time job, and only recently has begun posting agendas and meeting schedules online.

"We don't have a person to devote to it," Clark said.

Morgan County's Web site was used recently to survey the county's labor force as part of an Economic Development Authority project, but otherwise, Clark said he has been trying to avoid having a Web site that requires weekly or daily updates.

"I'm fairly happy with what we've got so far," Clark said.




Where to go:



The following are the Web addresses for governments in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

· Berkeley County - www.berkeleycountycomm.org

· Jefferson County - www.jeffersoncountywv.org

· Morgan County - www.morgancountywv.info

· Bolivar - www.bolivarwv.us

· Charles Town - www.charlestownwv.us

· Harpers Ferry - www.harpersferrywv.us

· Hedgesville - www.hedgesvillewv.us

· Martinsburg - www.martinsburg.com/city/index.mtsbg.html

· Ranson - www.ransonwv.govoffice2.com

· Shepherdstown - www.shepherdstown.us

· Paw Paw - No Web site available

· Bath (Berkeley Springs) - No Web site available

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