E-government availability to get a boostLaura Kinsler
December 10, 2000
TAMPA - The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County will soon begin offering residents more services online for the sake of convenience.
Home builder Steve Roberts usually sets aside a couple of hours when he has to file permits at Tampa's Construction Services Center.
"It's a lot of waiting," he said. "If it was possible to do it online, you bet I'd do it. I'd rather sit at my desk than have to spend two hours here."
Starting next month, Roberts will get his wish.
Tampa is rebuilding its Web site, adding services that will enable people to conduct business over the Internet. Builders will be able to apply for permits and submit plans online. They can set up accounts and pay the permitting fees on line, too. Or they'll be able to request inspections or submit building plans for review.
They won't have to set foot inside the Construction Services Center on North Boulevard.
"That goes to the heart of it," said Rick Smith, the city's planning director. "We'll be able to provide 24-7 customer service. So if you go on this Web site, you can conduct business with the city at any hour."
Permitting is just a part of it.
Business owners will be able to renew their business licenses online. Vendors will apply for permits and pay the fees by computer. Shopping centers can hire off-duty police officers to work security by accessing the city's Web site.
Instead of trekking to the Fort Brooke Garage, parking violators pay their tickets online.
"That would be great," said Joe Williams, who gets about two parking tickets every month. "I could just set up an account."
'Williams, a salesman for Tampa Bay Computers on Franklin Street, usually gets ticketed for parking in a loading zone. His customers are ticketed frequently, too. And Williams usually offers to pay their fines. "That's just the cost of doing business downtown," Williams said.
Downtown workers who park in city-owned garages will be able to order their monthly parking passes online, too.
The city Web site will be set up to accept payments with debit or credit cards. "The cities that don't foster this kind of business will be left behind," said Mayor Dick Greco, who listed e-government as one of his strategic initiatives in 1999.
He wanted the city's Web site to be interactive. As people get more accustomed to banking and shopping on the Internet, they were beginning to demand the same convenience from state and local government, he said.
"Ten years from now, we'll probably be buying most of what we buy over the Internet," Greco said.
Hillsborough County government is restructuring its Web sites as well. The circuit court clerk now accepts credit card payments online for traffic offenses.
"We see this as the First step at making our Web site more interactive" spokeswoman Edna Fitzpatrick said.
The clerk's office also plans to make more court documents and public records available on the Internet.
The Hillsborough County Tax Collector's offices are moving toward more e -government as well. Spokesman Preston Trigg said that by March 2001, residents will be able to pay their property taxes and renew car tags online or over the phone. They'll be able to apply for occupational, hunting and fishing licenses, too.
Tampa contracted with National Information Consortium, a company that provides e-government to 23 states and cities such as Indianapolis and San Francisco, to rebuild Tampa's Web site.
"This will be our First contract in Florida," said Lindsey Spindle, company-spokeswoman.
NIC will provide the city with $4.8 million worth of software and service at no charge. The company will charge users fees ranging from $1 to $5 per transaction to recoup its investment.
Trigg said the county tax collector's office is looking for a similar contract "We're not going to put a dime of taxpayer money into this," he said.
Representatives from NIC are in town now installing the software. Some of the applications, Spindle said, will be created especially for Tampa. For example, the Tampa Museum of Art will offer an online gift shop.
NIC released a study earlier this year that demonstrates the growing demand for e-government services.
According to the report:
Tampa launched its Web site is 1996. Activity on the site has grown from 200,000 hits per month to, nearly 1 million hits last month. The site allows users, to get copies of meeting agendas, print bus routes, read government audit reports, examine the city budget and get directions to any city park.
"The Web site now has passive information," said John McGrath, city administrator. "We're trying go to the next level, where it's interactive. We want to make it as convenient as possible for the public to do business with the city."
He suspects the service will popular with the businesses community. "Permitting is going to be real popular," he said.
Once the new site is running, people will no longer have to go to the police station to get accident reports, They will be able to file an incident report or check crime statistics online. They'll even be able to give anonymous crime tips.
"It's going to be incredibly useful," said Joe Durkin, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department.
The city's Web site is, www.ci.tampa.fl.us
To find out more about NIC check out www.nicusa.com
To see the county's Web site." go to www.hillsboroughcounty.org
Tampa joins electronic age
The city will launch its new e-government portal in January at www.ci.tampa.fl.us/. Web users will be able to: