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Virtual Courthouse Takes Top Honor

For the second year in a row, Larimer County's web site, the "Virtual Courthouse", takes the top honor in the Northern Colorado Business Report's CyberStars Awards.

The site was launched in November 1995 — well before most counties even considered a Web presence — and since then has become a virtual clearinghouse of information. The site averages 600,000 hits per month and the available information ranges from ordinances, budgets and statistics to trivia, weather updates and news releases.

Web Administrator Steve Moore is something of a one-man show when it comes to maintaining the county's Web site. "There are about a half dozen other employees who help maintain their department's sites," he said. "But full-time, it's mostly just me."

A short visit to www.larimer.org quickly explains what a formidable task that is. Moore said the public-records databases are by far the most utilized section of the site. The property records database includes every document recorded in the County Clerk's office since 1971. Assessment values and tax information are also available online. The health-inspection database in-cludes five years of inspection records for every restaurant in the county. And a voter-registration database is also accessible. The newest database is the street inventory, which is used by city planners to ensure that new developments don't duplicate existing street names.

Moore said over 440,000 queries have been registered on the databases so far this year. "That's quite a few phone calls and trips to the courthouse that didn't have to be made," he said. Community Information Manager Deni LaRue agrees with Moore that the Web site offers a great convenience to the community. "We always knew laying the groundwork for this would be very important because it was going to become more and more accessible," she said. "Now people don't have to drive downtown to get what they're looking for. They can just turn on their computer."

Another popular feature, LaRue said, is the e-mail subscription service. The county offers automatic e-mail notification in 13 different categories. Some of the topics included in the free service are job postings, bid proposals, road closures, Commissioners' meeting agendas and minutes and news releases. "Say somebody is interested in land-use issues," she said. "They can sign up, and every time a land-use meeting is scheduled they'll get a notification." LaRue said the site is one of the most user-friendly she's come across. "The best part is the layers of information available," she said. "You can get just basic stuff, or you can keep going deeper and deeper." LaRue said she was particularly pleased that the county's online presence has been honored by a business publication. "It's a real tribute to be recognized," she said. "The fact that we're right in there with the private sector shows we really have a great Web site."

Five years ago, County Commissioner Kathay Rennels said she was a bit hesitant to accept the new technology. "Back then a Web site was something people over 40 weren't used to using," she said. "Now I use it on a regular basis." With a commissioner's travel schedule, Rennels said the Web site has become invaluable to her. "It's so nice to be able to say (to constituents), 'I don't have that information with me, but go to our Web site, I know it's there,'" she said, adding, "I've had nothing but accolades for our Web site." Rennels said she is most impressed with a new addition to the site called "Compass." It provides statistics for the county that relate to quality-of-life issues including, demographics, arts and recreation opportunities, housing, employment, crime and education. "Steve Moore puts an amazing amount of time and creativity into it," Rennels said. "He really is a Web master."

Even with all the information already available online, Moore continues to add more features. Projects in the works for 2002 include live broadcasts of commissioners' meetings, a Web cam that will document the construction of the new county office building, interactive maps courtesy of the county's geographic information systems department, and the ability to request building inspections and view the status of building permits online.

The county places initial costs for establishing the Web site at $11,000 and annual maintenance costs are estimated to be $100,000.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report, 12/28/2001
Background Image: Rocky Mountain National Park by Sue Burke. All rights reserved.