Douglas County commissioners Monday began building the "courthouse of the future" by directing staff members to create a plan that will allow many county services to be conducted over the Internet.
Commissioners at their regular Monday meeting agreed to create a committee of county employees and community members to study e-government issues. The committee during the next six months will develop an e-government strategic plan that could address a range of issues, such as how county residents could pay taxes online, electronically register for permits, or use the Internet to access county maps.
The study also should give county commissioners some cost estimates for developing the new e-government services, which are expected to require a significant amount of new hardware and software computer equipment for the county.
"I think it is safe to say that there is going to be a big price tag with this," County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "But it may be cost effective overall. We should have a better informed public as a result of e-government, and that is a large benefit."
Jim Lawson, the county's director of information technology, told commissioners that he thinks the service would be cost effective because it may allow the county to hire fewer employees in the future. He also said he thinks county residents will begin to demand such services.
"Citizens are becoming used to doing business 24 hours a day, seven days a week from their home," Lawson said. "They are expecting government to provide those services just like businesses do."
Commissioners agreed that it was an issue they had to study, but made it clear that any new program would have to find a way to fit into what is expected to be a tight budget in 2003.
"I don't think we have any choice but to move toward some system of e-government, but how far and how fast we move forward will be big questions," Commissioner Bob Johnson said.
Staff members had recommended to commissioners that only county employees be included on the committee because they did not want to create a high level of expectation by inviting several members of the public to serve.
Commissioners, though, directed that at least two non-county employees be added to the group.