Q&A: Harrisonburg’s online services

Brent Finnegan -- October 30th, 2008

We’re almost done with the Q&A series with City Council candidates. One more to go.

Can citizens expect to have access online to services commonly found in other cities of our size (i.e. pay water or electric bills, register for new water service, etc.)?

Roger Baker: I have been advocating for online access for some time. I think most of your examples are possible now or could be with a little help from council.
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Dave Wiens: In a number of ways, our city is behind other Virginia cities of similar size. As a way to be more transparent, I would support efforts to place all public documents online, including all contracts where confidentiality is not an issue. It is important for “the people’s business” to be able to be viewed by the people. To make the business of the city more user friendly, my colleague and running mate, Bill Ney, has expressed his interest in opening up the treasurer’s office to more modern payment methods including electronic payment of all “city” bills. I would strongly support him in this attempt. I would also support all other city departments who wish to “modernize” their customer services.
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Charlie Chenault: The city has implemented HOPS which is an online bill payment system. You can now pay your water bill online, and you soon will be able to pay your tax bills online. Because of new service delinquencies, I would defer to the water department to see if they favor online service initiation. Although HEC sets its own rules and regulations, I would hope that would implement the same policy which they have not.
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Richard Baugh: I know all of the Treasurer’s Office candidates are calling for just this type of modernization. In some respects, this is the same as the IPv6 issue. It is clearly something we would want to do, and something we will certainly have sooner or later. So, the only questions are really about the ability to implement this and the cost benefit analysis over the near term. Obviously, we are talking about something much less cutting edge than IPv6, so the chances of technological obstacles and prohibitive expense are much less likely.
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Kai Degner:I understand the importance of offering services online and will be an advocate for a continual improving website. The treasurer’s office is working on online bill payment as we speak. I think Jeff Shafer said at last week’s debate that some services would be up in the next couple months.

But there is other information I would like to provide via the city’s website. I would like to expand the “Citizens” section of the website to include more robust information about the opportunities to participate in our local government. I’d like to see a more obvious schedule of all opportunities for public input. I would like to see information with tips on how to run an effective community/neighborhood meeting. Once neighborhood committees are established, I’d like to see information on how to connect a neighborhood representative – and, of course, how to become one yourself.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans, Rodney Eagle, J.M. Snell. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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9 Responses to “Q&A: Harrisonburg’s online services”

  1. zach says:

    One day Harrisonburg may have as modern a payment system as Rockingham County.

  2. finnegan says:

    I found Charlie and Kai’s answers interesting.

    I especially like the idea of more information on the city website. As it stands right now (someone correct me if I’m wrong) the city doesn’t send out emails with the council’s bi-weekly agenda. Or maybe an RSS feed? I would love to know what’s coming up at City Council meetings without having to go here: http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/index.php?id=196

    Also, I hope at least one member of City Council starts blogging.

  3. linz says:

    These Q&A sessions are a great resource – thanks so much! I’m going to send the link for the Q&A archives to people I know in the city who don’t keep up with the blogs so it’s all right there for them.

  4. charlie chenault says:

    Brent – I think you and I have talked about an RSS feed which is . doable. The e-mail notice works for me as well. I will tell you this from experience, once you are on council, if you are fully doing your job, the workload can be enormous. You can tend to lose sight of these types of issues. One of the positive results of this council campaign is the need for better citizen”education.”
    Thanks – Charlie

  5. Miriam says:

    While we don’t have a form to request council agendas online, anyone may ask to receive it via email from the city clerk and she will be happy to add you to the list that she keeps. 432-7701 or bonnier@harrisonburgva.gov

    If anyone would like to see the entire council packet, which is the agenda and all the attachements, we have an extra copy in the City Manager’s Office and one is delivered to the main branch of the Massanutten Regional Library.

    An online request could be created and I will discuss it with our IT department.

    I think I have made this offer before and Thanh has as well, but any ideas or concerns that folks may have about the city can be sent to me anytime or you can call me between 8 and 5 M-F and I will do my best to help you out. My email is miriamd@harrisonburgva.gov and I can be reached in the City Manager’s Office at 432-7701. If people would rather stop by that’s fine, second floor of the Municipal Building (345 South Main) or heck, fax us 432-7778.

  6. charlie chenault says:

    Thanks Miriam – Charlie

  7. Renee says:

    I think a blog or RSS feed with announcements and meeting reports would be great and would reach a lot of people.

  8. Thanh says:

    Just found this – Harrisonburg Online Payment Systems (HOPS) – is available online here: http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/onlinepayments/ I haven’t had the opportunity yet to pay a bill online, but I did login to my Water information with my account and pin numbers and saw my balance due (at this time $0.00). I am also able to view the history of previous bills paid. It appears that folks in the City offices are making good changes. Pretty neat!

  9. An RSS feed, with an e-mail subscription option would be fantastic. You could make one feed for news/announcements, another for meeting minutes, another for public input opportunities, another as a master feed, etc.

    If it were an RSS feed, sites such as hburgnews and hbblogs (along with other local blogs) could put the most recent posts from the city in their blog sidebar.

    Think of the transparency and engagement that could be encouraged!

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