Change is constant on the Web, and no exception is made for local governments.
Arlington County residents who depend on the county’s Web site for reserving soccer fields, paying parking tickets and checking the real estate assessments in their neighborhoods may have noticed that, despite periodic updates, the county’s arlingtonva.us site has not had a major redesign in many years. In fact, type “Web site redesign” in the current search box, and one of the top results is a 2003 budget proposal for the last major overhaul.
That’s changing this fall, as the county rolls out, in phases, a new county Web site that officials say will be simpler and easier to use and search from all types of digital devices. It was built using WordPress, a free, open-source content management system that county employees can customize when necessary. It’s already employed in more than 15 of Arlington’s smaller Web sites, including the county library system.
Users familiar with the current site can test out the new site now, and provide feedback from this link: https://acg.optimalworkshop.com/chalkmark/acgnavtasks.
“We’re focusing on making it more user-centric rather than department-centric,” said Jennifer K. Smith, a county spokeswoman who has worked on the project.
The area devoted to environmental affairs, for example, will combine information from three departments, she said. New links to real-time transit information will be added, and the calendars for many county facilities will be available.
The redesign and launch will cost about $200,000, which includes development costs, Web hosting fees, and writing and editing support for 4,000-plus pages and files. The money for the new site came primarily from unused funds from the budget for fiscal 2012 and from existing departmental budgets.
The current Web site costs about $250,000 per year for Web hosting, support, development and hardware.
Smith said the county expects the new site will cut ongoing costs in half, to less than $75,000 a year.
The current Web site, while functional, can sometimes produce aged or outdated responses. The new site can be updated nearly instantly, as opposed to the current twice-per-hour updates, Smith said. Because the county will be able to work on the source code itself and because the licensing fees for the current proprietary code will end, officials hope to cut costs in half in the future, she said.
The new site will start appearing in stages next month and is expected to fully replace the current site by the end of the year.
In a related development, the county is working on an application that will allow residents to request basic services such as pothole repair, fallen-tree removal or sidewalk replacement by smartphones or other mobile devices. That is expected to be available this fall.