County mulling $36K website overhaul

Posted 1/21/20

Park County’s website is getting a more than $36,000 overhaul — or maybe not.

Commissioners decided last month that, even amid a tight budget, upgrading the county’s web presence …

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County mulling $36K website overhaul

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Park County’s website is getting a more than $36,000 overhaul — or maybe not.

Commissioners decided last month that, even amid a tight budget, upgrading the county’s web presence was a priority.

“There’s some stuff you can’t afford not to do,” Commissioner Jake Fulkerson said on Dec. 17, as the commission voted 3-1 to hire the firm CivicPlus to redesign and host the county’s website. The Manhattan, Kansas-based firm would charge the county $36,371 for the initial makeover, then $5,625 a year for hosting, support and other services.

However, the commissioners have since had some second thoughts and will reconsider their vote today (Tuesday).

In talking with more and more people, looking at the cost and noting the lack of proposals from any local website designers, Commissioner Dossie Overfield said Friday that she has wondered, “are we getting too complicated?”

“I think we wanted to step back and take another look, because what we’re hearing is it possibly can be done for less than that in certain ways, maybe not the Cadillac version,” said Overfield, who initially supported CivicPlus’s proposal.

CivicPlus submitted the cheapest proposal among the six firms that sought the job — and county officials, at least initially liked the company’s body of work.

Commissioner Joe Tilden had cast the lone vote against moving forward. He noted that the county may reduce road maintenance and cut staff — “and now we’re spending over budget on something that ... is possibly a ‘want’ rather than an absolute need.”

The county had set aside $20,000 for the website redesign, but the commission felt it was worth accepting CivicPlus’s proposal.

While generally being tight with money, “we need to update; I’m sorry” said Commissioner Lloyd Thiel at the Dec. 17 meeting, adding, “I would rather spend $16,000 extra and make it much more user-friendly for the general public.”

While saying the upgrade was hard to justify for the general public, he and Commissioner Lee Livingston both said they thought a better site would save money by boosting efficiency and enabling people to do more business with the county remotely.

“It’s plain and simple: it’s what the public is expecting,” said Livingston.

CivicPlus specializes in serving local governments, claiming more than 4,000 clients across the U.S., Canada and Australia — including the City of Cody, Natrona County and Campbell County.

In its proposal, CivicPlus pledged to create a website specifically tailored to Park County’s needs that will offer community members “what they need, when they need it.”

“You won’t simply be getting a website,” CivicPlus Account Executive Melissa Frias wrote in a cover letter, “you’ll also obtain the tool to build a trusted and long-term relationship between you and your citizens.”

The company’s package includes: a way to issue alerts and emergency notifications; an archive for various county documents; sections for posting jobs, bids and news releases; electronic calendars for upcoming and past events; a system for accepting online payments and making reservations; online forms; methods for tracking and responding to citizen complaints and requests; and an easy-to-use content management system and page editor, among other features.

The county’s current site, built in-house by the IT department and hosted at a low cost with GoDaddy, lacks many of those abilities. It’s not specifically designed for mobile devices and it can be challenging for staffers from other departments to update their own pages.

“We’re not website developers, we’re IT people,” said County Chief Information Officer Mike Conners. “And we can do it to a point, but there’s better things that can be done with the site. I don’t know if prettier is the right word to use, but that’s what some people would say.”

Conners described it as a judgment call as to whether the upgrade was a want or a need with the county’s finances tight. CivicPlus’s site will be better for the public in the long run, but at the same time, “when I go home and I see something cool, and I don’t have the budget, I don’t buy it,” he said at the Dec. 17 meeting.

Conners said staffers in some departments had questioned why the county was considering a redesign, but County Planning Director Joy Hill described it as “necessary.”

When she applied for her current position in 2018 and saw the county’s website, “I was frightened,” Hill told commissioners. “I was building websites like that when I was in high school” some two decades ago, she said.

A new site, she said, could offer new opportunities for people to submit various applications online, among other features.

“We’re a connected society, so let’s get connected,” Hill said.

Over the next four years, the county’s new deal with CivicPlus would cost $53,246. The offers from the other five vendors ranged between $58,300 (Jesse James Creative) and $206,499 (Status Not Quo).

The county patterned its request for proposals off a template provided by CivicPlus.

“It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, we had to modify it, but it fit the way we kind of put everything together,” Conners explained in an interview last week, adding, “We looked at a few different ways of doing it [the RFP], but that one just seemed to fit the bill the best.”

While the county was fielding proposals, another vendor noticed the document’s apparent origins with CivicPlus.

“... is Park County open to other govt website providers other than that competitor?” the firm inquired.

County officials responded that they wanted to see what different companies had to offer.

“All proposals will be evaluated, and a decision made on which vendor (if any) will best suit our needs,” the county wrote.

CivicPlus wound up being the only vendor to address all of the requirements laid out in the RFP. In a review by county staff, it also topped the field in six of the other seven criteria — including past experience with other local governments, website usability, training and, most importantly, the cost.

However, commissioners may now look to find a cheaper route.

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