County Web site wins top award

Prince William County’s Web site, dubbed a “government without walls,” is the best of its breed, according to a 2003 Center for Digital Government survey.

The county’s Web site,, captured the no. 1 rank in a national contest performed by the Center for Digital Government, the National Association of Counties and Government and Technology Magazine.

The survey rated local government Web sites on their innovation and services available to citizens in their jurisdictions.

Perhaps Prince William County’s designation has something to do with instant County Supervisor meeting agendas available through e-mail or text messages.

“Every time a board agenda is published (citizens who sign up) get it in an e-mail and on their phone if they have text messaging,” said Mashood Noorbakhsh, chief information officer for the county.

Or maybe the county won first place for online real estate tax statements that citizens can view and pay electronically using a credit card or check.

Builders might credit the county’s top-ranking designation to online building permit applications used by more than 50 contractors who’ve see 7,000 online permits granted since January.

Noorbakhsh said it’s all of these features, plus others, that make the best in the 250,000- to 499,999-county population category.

“In addition to getting plain information about government to citizens, it’s pretty innovative due to the fact that citizens and businesses mainly participate in conducting real time transactions,” Noorbakhsh.

“We are delighted that someone finally recognized that we are one of the best on the country. And we are going to make it better,” he said, adding that the county has collected about $1.5 million online in fees that people don’t even have to leave their house to pay.

This is the Center for Digital Government’s first year to recognize local governments for their citizen-friendly Web sites, but has been around for five years.

The county has spent about $240,000 to maintain the site. That money covers the cost of equipment, software and hardware tools. Five county employees maintain the site.

The county charges a users’ fee for 120 current subscribing title companies to access land records to the status of any county properties.

“Now they can do that from their office, they can do it after hours when the government is closed or on the weekends from their homes,” said Noorbakhsh.

And the list of free e-notifications that can be e-mailed or text messaged to residents ranges from dog licenses to tax payment reminders.

The site also includes Web pages that tell residents how to deal with barking dogs, litter, erosion and one that shows a property’s assessed value and owner’s names.

This year the site has seen over 2 million visitors.

In 1998, there were about 45,000 visitors. In 2000, 740,000 people visited the site and last year it saw 2.5 million clicks.

“We call it government without walls,” said Noorbakhsh. “The Board [of County Supervisors] and the county executive ought to get credit for putting this program in place and supporting it with the funding.”

This fall Noorbakhsh said citizens can expect a new, easier navigated version of the site.

He said the county will introduce “My,” something similar to “My Yahoo.”

“Folks can customize it so they only see information they are interested in, like libraries or parks,” he said.

“We’re trying to structure it from the average citizen’s point of view who does not know the government at all,” said Noorbakhsh. “Right now it’s easy, but now we have realized we can make it a lot easier.”