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Posted September 4, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Governments pay thousands for new websites

By Alex Bridges

Local governments in the area paid firms thousands of dollars to revamp their dated websites and offer more online services.

Costs to redesign websites differ for each jurisdiction depending on the content and features. But most redesigns completed so far brought sites current with common features such as connections to social media services, photo slideshows and video, scrolling announcements and drop-down menus.

Shenandoah County recently entered into a contract with Richmond-based Refresh Web Design and Internet Marketing LLC to redesign the website at a cost of $19,620. The company also will create a social media presence for the county at a cost of $750. County Administrator Mary Beth Price called the cost "reasonable" for the services that go beyond just giving the county website a new look.

The county advertised for qualified companies to submit proposals to perform the work and received 21 responses. Officials looked at the proposals and interviewed the top vendors, Price explained.

"It's not only based on price but it's based on the quality and the product that you're going to receive," Price said. "There was a very wide range of costs. But our Web team was very impressed with what Refresh was going to provide us."

Price added that the amount of content the county's website and number of pages of information would include likely influences the cost for the work. Likewise, the number of departments affected the price, she explained.

"Compared to some of the other prices we received, again we were very pleased with not only the cost but the product," Price said.

Kick-off meetings on the project began Aug. 26. Shenandoah County plans to unveil its new website in January.

New Market also recently awarded a contract to a company to redesign the town's website. The town allocated $15,000 in the current fiscal budget approved in the spring. Town Manager Evan Vass said New Market has since awarded a contract to BlueKey Web Solution Inc. for $14,750 to provide design services for the website. BlueKey also designed and hosts Strasburg's website.

Vass said the town does not have an estimated time of completion for the new website.

By comparison, Mount Jackson spent far less for a company to redesign its municipal website that went online about a month ago. Finance Director Neal Showalter said the town contracted with Southern Sun Media to redesign the website at a cost of approximately $1,500. The town also pays less than $200 year for hosting costs, Showalter said. The website operates with Wordpress and some staff members have said it's easy to use, Showalter added.

"We're still learning how to make it work the way we want it to," Showalter said. "We need a little time to iron it out but we're hoping it will be a giant step in communication with the citizens of Mount Jackson."

Shenandoah County currently uses a separate company as the host of its website. The contracted company will host the website it designs for the county at a cost of $350 per year, Price said. The county received a discount on the hosting fees by paying for a year's worth of service.

Shenandoah County currently has one person on staff who handles information technology. Budget Manager Garland Miller also works on the county's information systems. But the county now plans to move to a content management system that allows each department to oversee its own web pages, Price explained. The system uses Wordpress, which that allows staff to maintain their department's Web page. The contract includes training for those employees assigned to maintain department Web page. Price said departments would decide who takes on the task of maintaining their pages.

"We have to currently rely on IT staff to post all of those public notices, our agendas and so forth," Price said.

Shenandoah County supervisors included the money for website redesign in the current budget. Before the new budget cycle bega, the host for the county website experienced a crash. The incident left the website with broken links and lost data. Documents stored on the site could not be retrieved.

"I don't know that you can ever stop any type of server going down," Price said. "I don't know that can ever be prevented.

"I would hope that the backup system that Refresh would have and the Web hosting it would save our information," Price added. "That was part of the problem when we had our crash here this past winter."

Warren County had its website redesigned several years ago. However, changes in software and compatibility prompted the county to spend more money for Web services.

Earlier this summer, the county entered into a contract with Emedia to upgrade its content management software for up to $4,845, according to information from Brandy Rosser, coordinator of grants and special projects. Warren County opted to upgrade to a newer version of the content management software it uses with the website, Rosser explained. The version of the software in use by the county at the time had reached its "end-of-life," Rosser said. Emedia stopped supporting sites that used that version of the software and the county opted to pay for the upgrade.

Warren County pays $120 per month to Emedia for hosting the website and to perform maintenance not handled by staff, Rosser said.

Visit local governments at the following websites:
www.warrencountyva.net
newmarketvirginia.com
www.mountjackson.com
www.warrencountyva.net

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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