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Internet isnt free; in fact, its pricey
Local governments shell out bucks for redesigned websites, maintenance
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Area government websites

Hall County
Unique users to home page: 91,857 (in May 2014)
Associated costs: Commissioners recently approved a $78,000 contract for a redesign.

Unique users to home page: 32,400 (approximate)
Associated costs: Approximately $250 per month

Unique users to home page: Unavailable
Associated costs: Approximately $150 per month; a 2009 redesign cost $9,475.

Flowery Branch
Unique users to home page: 3,116 (in April 2014)
Associated costs: Approximately $150 per month; an upcoming redesign was $900 in FY2014.

Forsyth County
Unique users to home page: 60,000 (approximate)
Associated costs: All Web work is done in-house.

Gwinnett County
Unique users to home page: 157,137 (in June 2014)
Associated costs: Most Web work done in-house; a 2011 redesign via an outside vendor cost $17,000.

The content may be free to end users, but website design and maintenance take time and cost money. It’s no exception for area county and city governments, with thousands of tax dollars spent for original design or redesign work.

The issue of website costs has arisen a couple of times over the past few months as Hall County and various cities hashed through their budgets. In May, the Hall County commissioners narrowly approved a $78,000 contract to Civic Plus of Manhattan, Kan., for a website redesign.

In addition to the redesign, Civic Plus is supposed to provide technology upgrades and site maintenance at no additional cost. The company will also develop a mobile app, and do another redesign in four years.

The county’s senior programmer Paul Herriott, who manages the current website, said he did not know when a new website would be developed.

“I think they originally wanted to have something up and running into the new year,” Herriott said, adding he wasn’t certain about that information.

With rapid changes in technology leading people toward using the Internet differently, governmental agencies are part of a wide selection of businesses racing to not be outdated and to provide ease of use for customers.

“The bigger the site gets, and the more features and functions you have, the more difficult it becomes (to navigate),” Herriott said. “I’ve seen some people posting online ... complaining they can’t find anything on the site. “So, it becomes a larger and larger problem the more content you add to it and the more functions you add.”

But beyond those upfront costs, maintenance is minimal, according to many. And it seems that beyond design work, maintenance is usually done in-house, at low to no cost.

Along with the county, the cities of Gainesville and Flowery Branch also plan to have newly designed websites launched within the next couple of months.

“We are basically doing a face-lift right now,” said Catiel Felts, spokeswoman for the city of Gainesville. “That will include some additional functionality, trying to make the website even easier for our customers. That’s probably going to be ready mid- to late-September. Maybe earlier. Right now, we’re just working on the design.

“What we’ll do is we’ll take the existing information that’s on the website and we’ll just basically move that over. We won’t be adding a whole bunch of new content, but there will be additional functionality. And there will be a new look for the website; you know how often that changes. We’re just trying to make it even more current.”

The cost for this work is $3,500, according to Felts. But, she added, additional outside work would likely not be needed for some time.

“We go months without doing any paid maintenance,” she said. “The city employees are working on the back end all the time, trying to keep everything current.”

Beyond that $3,500, Felts estimated around $250 was spent monthly on maintenance; however, she said nothing could be spent for months and then some time would be required in blocks.

“Basically, what I’ll do is I might buy a block of time,” Felts said. “So I might say, ‘Hey, I need five or 10 hours of maintenance.’ And we might use that 10 hours up, and we start over again.

“Financially, the best I can tell looking at the last couple of records that we have, is that if we were to divide it out by the month, we probably spend $250 a month on maintenance.”

The Flowery Branch website also was brought up during a public hearing for the city’s budget; it was stated the $33,600 line item should not be that high.

According to City Manager Bill Andrew, those costs include the entire city’s IT support, basic software upgrades, hosting services and cloud storage for backup files.

The city paid $900 in the 2014 fiscal year for a redesign, which is underway now. Beyond that, the average cost per month for website maintenance is around $150, according to City Clerk Melissa McCain.

That would be the most inexpensive payment for work done; Oakwood redesigned its website in 2009, with the cost being $9,475, City Manager Stan Brown said. He also said the monthly maintenance is around $150, the same as Flowery Branch.

Lula and Gillsville do not have websites.

The $78,000 contract Hall County awarded to Civic Plus for Web design is more expensive than the 2011 redesign for the Gwinnett County website; according to that county’s communications director Joe Sorenson, it paid $17,000 to Mighty 8th Media.

Jodi Gardner said Forsyth County was currently in the process of new web development, but all work is done in-house so she did not have the associated costs available.

“The only cost associated with that work would be the purchase of the software for the project,” she added, again saying she was unsure of that particular cost.