Technology: Local governments use high-tech tools to cut costs and connect with residents

San Mateo County, California (population 718,451): After grabbing $50 million from a reserve fund this summer to balance San Mateo County’s budget, the Board of Supervisors today is to vote on an adjusted budget that includes about $400,000 to transform its meeting chambers into a high-tech haven. The upgrade includes eight HP Slate tablets with docking stations for the five supervisors and three officials who also sit on the dais during board meetings — County Manager David Boesch, Assistant County Manager David Holland and County Counsel John Beiers. But they won’t be the only ones to benefit from the upgrade. So will anyone who attends board meetings or watches them on local Peninsula TV cable broadcast or the Internet because the board chambers’ video and audio capability will be improved, said county spokesman Marshall Wilson.

Flat-panel LCD video screens will be purchased and connected to the computer system to provide a much more readable image than that currently shown by an overhead projector, Wilson said. The television on a table near the board dais used for viewing slide shows and other images will be removed because five flat-panel monitors will be placed in front of each supervisor. More than a quarter of the $400,000 price tag will be financed from the reserve account.

San Mateo County is not the first Peninsula municipality to switch to the trendy tablet: Mountain View and Redwood City both purchased Apple iPads for their council members, saying the move is both environmentally friendly and ultimately cheaper than printing and distributing paper documents. San Mateo County is getting its tablets from HP because its current technology infrastructure is set up for PCs and not for Apple products. The HP Slate also comes with additional security options to encrypt and protect data from being hacked, he said. The tablets with docking stations cost about $1,000 apiece, he said. Read more at the Mercury News.

Ferndale, Michigan (population 18,911): The Ferndale City Council held a special meeting Monday night to have an informal discussion on upgrading the city’s website. Common points of improvement included making the website user friendly, keeping information up-to-date, providing resident services on the site such as paying bills, establishing a brand for the city of Ferndale, as well as creating social media pages and policies. Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter said he wants to see the website as a one-stop shop for Ferndale business.

A big component of improving the site was also a discussion on communication between the city and its residents, such as that during the multi power outage in July that left thousands of Ferndale residents without power. During the outage, which occurred in the midst of the hottest period of time in southeast Michigan in 15 years, the city relied mostly on the media and city officials personal Facebook pages to get the information out about what was happening. Coulter sent out robocalls telling residents the Gerry Kulick Community Center would open as an all-night cooling center for those looking to cool off during the nearly 100-degree weather. But it didn’t go to every resident. Coulter had an idea of adding a database that residents could sign up for to receive alerts either via text or phone, similar to the robocalls but reaching more residents. There was also discussion about utilizing social media for instances like this as well. Read more at the Ferndale Patch.

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