County and local governments are setting ambitious goals to improve their constituents’ online digital experience in nationwide efforts to improve both efficiency and resident trust.
In a symposium held Wednesday by PayIt, a contractor that offers local governments a digital platform to accept online payments, elected officials from the Midwest to the South detailed their efforts to modernize and increase iteration in agencies while also driving increased resident engagement and satisfaction.
“When I was elected to this office in 2014, some of our (agency) people were still using typewriters. They weren’t used to technology nor did they want it. So we really had to change our culture,” said Mike Hammond, the criminal court clerk in Knox County, Tenn. “From day one we got people involved, even people working counters. What would you like to see from this system?”
Hammond said residents didn’t fathom how they could go to Walmart and get a transaction done quickly, but “when they would come to our counter, it would take forever.”
As a “true fee” office, he explained, Knox County is responsible for every penny, from printers to salaries, putting a premium on efficiency.
“Every dollar we collect is important to us. I wanted to make sure we weren’t leaving any money on the table and also make it easier for our constituents to pay online rather than stand in line,” he added.
“In 2017, we took our four main services of water, property tax, refuse, and parking tickets, and that was our big launch – our big lift – 80% of payments that we take in the city,” said John Globensky, the treasurer of Grand Rapids, Mich. “And since that time we’ve been iterative. We have found ways to adapt and add more services.”
Globensky said his agency is exploring how to add delinquent tax payments and court payments to their online systems.
“Once you get started, it becomes that snowball effect. What more can I deliver for my community?” he said.
As government agencies built trust through digital payment options, resident experience is improving. It takes time, the officials said, to move from providing an option to residential adoption — a process simplified when payment options are made easy to use.
“Relationships are not a commodity. Not like salt, milk, and eggs. You are investing in relationships,” said Globensky.
Cybersecurity and safety are top concerns for citizens, making residential trust in government payment systems essential.
Todd Shanly, the chief information officer of Cabarrus County, N.C., said his office focused on interconnectability and an application programming interface — known as an API. Cabarrus County has its own personalized, secure app for residents who make municipal payments online, called myCabCo.
“It’s more flexible with an open API because it’s still a people business,” said Shanly.
But, he said, ease of use and security features do not have to stand in conflict.
“We manage 15 to 20 lines of business, but in our local government there are 25 different goals and different software,” Shanly said. “Our constituents have that expectation that their government should deliver the same way as when you get things shipped to your doorstep from Target.”
— Laura Plaia is a freelance editor and writer based in Alexandria, Va.