MERCER COUNTYCounty agencies widen Web sites
By Hal Johnson
Business and industrial leaders, cops and voters look to Mercer County agencies for different reasons, but they all need information as quickly as possible.
The challenge for technology specialists is to keep pace with the demand to get more information out there.
Through its Web site, Mercer County is letting people know they can contact the treasurer for a dog license application, check out the weather and the most recent elections results, and bone up on court procedural rules.
Through its Web site, Penn-Northwest Development Corp. lets business owners know where and what kind of sites are available and what support services they can use.
As Digital Subscriber Lines and cable give more people easy access to the Internet, the county needs to get ready for the day when all residents have access to the World Wide Web, said Suzanne L. Hockenberry, director of the county Management Information Systems.
"Mercer County needs to beef up its Web site, so it can be one-stop shopping to be used for people to see if the information is in the courthouse before they come here," Ms. Hockenberry said.
Her wish list includes use of the Web site to renew dog licenses online, viewing local tax information, and using a digital signature to obtain confidential information, such as a birth certificate or a marriage license.
The Penn-Northwest Web site introduces corporate owners to Mercer County and lets them know the number of acres, type of area, availability of utilities, and what kind of support they can expect from local agencies. Links are available to such groups as local chambers of commerce and the Mercer County Career Center, said Tammy L. Calderwood, Penn-Northwest marketing manager.
Since the site was unveiled in early November, Penn-Northwest has received a few call inquiring about the sites, she said. Mrs. Calderwood said the site needs to be advertised more.
Sharon Commercial Printing designed the Web site. Ms. Calderwood, who said she is constantly updating its information, said she would like to see more information about more available sites and more news about the county and economic progress on the Web site.
However, not all information comes from a Web site.
The cop on the beat will be getting a lot more information about the people they pull over, beginning this summer.
Mercer County is among the second group of 14 counties to be connected with the Pennsylvania Justice Network, Ms. Hockenberry said. J-Net already has 10 counties on line. Mercer County is expected to be connected to J-Net in the second quarter of this year, the MIS director said.
A policeman with a laptop computer in his cruiser can find out just about anything about the individual he has stopped, except his criminal history, Ms. Hockenberry said. They includes a color driverís license photo and any outstanding warrants. If the policeman needs to know about the individualís prior record, the policeman can make a quick call to the county 911 center, she said.
Mercer County will access J-Net through a secure line, and policemen can access the county through cellular connections, Ms. Hockenberry said.
Two to three booking stations will be available in the county, so fingerprints of alleged offenders can be available to J-Net as soon as police arrest them, she said.
Ms. Hockenberry is on the J-Net steering committee, giving Mercer County a voice in supervising the network and setting policies, she said.
Another technological advance will serve a larger part of the population. Voters can expect to see touch screen voting booths this year. County voters on Nov. 7 approved the use of touch screen voting by a four-to-one vote.
Unlike punch card ballots, touch screen ballots are counted instantly. "The reliability of the count is impeccable," Ms. Hockenberry said.
Election night returns will be available on the countyís Web site faster than they are relayed now, she said. It also will enable the county to list on the Web site returns in more municipal elections, she said.
A staff of four in MIS manages the courthouse computer systems, the director said. Besides coming up with a better Web site, their tasks includes generating more reports on people in jail or on house arrest by using the computer network instead of copiers.
The hardware and software development and even training are all done in-house, Ms. Hockenberry. The Learning Center training of courthouse employees won MIS a National Association of Counties Officials achievement award.
Mercer County courthouse Web site is www.mcc.co.mercer.pa.us
Penn-Northwest Web site is www.penn-northwest.com
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