Whatcom County’s out-of-date website to get overhaul

A website Whatcom County officials admit is “confusing” and “archaic” is about to get an overhaul.

The county website, whatcomcounty.us, will be rebuilt from the ground up by CivicPlus, a company that works exclusively on government websites. Past clients include Blaine and the Port of Bellingham.

The County Council on Tuesday, Sept. 16, voted unanimously to hire CivicPlus for $143,840 to create a site that will make online interactions between the public and county government easier and more effective, officials said.

County leaders expect the new website, scheduled to launch next spring, will be a marked improvement over the present site, which went online in 2003.

“The county’s website is archaic and does not reflect public expectations with evolving technology,” Sheriff Bill Elfo said.

Dave Reynolds, director of Superior Court administration, said the new site promises to be “more user friendly.”

“We often get complaints the current website is confusing, and people have difficulty navigating it,” Reynolds said.

Features to be included in the new website are still under discussion, but some elements are beginning to take shape.

“The system will synchronize with Google Earth to allow citizens to enter addresses and see ‘pin maps’ of crime,” Elfo said. “This should raise awareness of crime trends and facilitate better and the more timely sharing of information.”

Other likely features, according to the office of county Executive Jack Louws:

•  an events calendar;

•  a “MyCounty” feature enabling residents to customize the website;

•  improved tracking of public comments and county responses;

•  formats that fit on mobile devices.

Council members are interested in live-streaming their meetings and posting video recordings to the site. This would require upgrades to council chambers and will be part of the 2015-16 budget discussions, Louws said.

After the Oso landslide in March, county officials discussed improving the information and maps of geological hazards available on the county website. Different software would be needed, Louws said, a purchase that will be another consideration for 2015-16.

County departments unanimously recommended hiring CivicPlus. Expectations for the new site are high.

“We are very excited about the capabilities of the chosen contractor,” said Susan Sloan, performance management specialist with the county Health Department. “From what we’ve seen of the other websites they’ve created, our new county website should be fabulous and offer much easier navigation and features.”

Port of Bellingham’s CivicPlus-created site went up in early 2011. The port is just about finished with an update of the site’s look and function, said Marie Duckworth, port communications specialist.

The contract with CivicPlus gives the county a free redesign after four years.

If members of the public have a wish list for the new website, now is the time to ask, Louws said.

“We look forward to any feedback or comments that would help us as we go into the development phase,” he said.

Send ideas for the new website to JLouws@co.whatcom.wa.us.