Belleville launches new website, broadcasting feature

News-DemocratAugust 16, 2013 

— The city of Belleville has launched a new website and will soon broadcast public meetings, two efforts aimed to improve communication and transparency between the city and residents.

The city's web address will remain the same, http://www.belleville.net, but the new site has more content, is user friendly and will be a good marketing tool for the city, said Sharon Strausbaugh, the city's marketing manager and website administrator.

Residents already can access the new site though city officials are still making final tweaks before the website officially goes live on Monday.

Strausbaugh said the city's website committee focused on how the site could serve residents, businesses and visitors. Each city department was asked to think about what questions or requests they get the most from the public, and then provide that information.

"It's like building a building," Strausbaugh said. "A lot of thought was put into what our foundation is. We built from the ground up as far as content."

The site includes information previously available, such as meeting agendas and minutes, the budget, maps and forms. Now residents can sign up for customized notifications whenever the city posts new content on the site, including the police blotter.

The new site has an effective search bar, addressing a common complaint of the old site that information was available but difficult to find.

Another new feature allows residents to report concerns, such as a pothole or street light outage, by submitting an online form that will be routed directly to the right department. The city asks for a valid email address so the city has a contact in case they can't find the location of the problem, for instance.

Staff also plans to update the site frequently with new info, including photo galleries from events such as Art on the Square and Tour de Belleville.

The city is also now on Facebook and Twitter, https://twitter.com/Belleville_ILL.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the redesign took about a year and lasted longer than expected, but the end product is good and he is proud of the staff that worked on the project.

Eckert said he hopes more residents use the website, which in turn will relieve the work load on city staff.

"People should find what they need on there," Eckert said.

The website redesign and maintenance for three years cost $52,044, Finance Director Jamie Maitret said. The bulk of the cost, about $40,000 is for the redevelopment.

CivicPlus also will upgrade the site in the fourth year as part of the package. The city will make three equal payments to the company on a no-interest loan.

The website has the capacity to feature videos of public meetings and events, but such details are being ironed out as the city works toward a broadcasting agreement with Lindenwood-Belleville and Charter Communications.

The university is building a $2 million communications center that includes space for radio and television stations.

Eckert has said a partnership with Lindenwood would keep costs low for the city and give students a learning opportunity.

The City Council on Aug. 5 unanimously approved $16,637 to install camera equipment in the Council Chambers at City Hall, and the work was being done on Friday.

The city will get $6,000 toward the equipment from Charter, based on the franchise agreement, according to Maitret. Money for the work is in this year's general fund budget.

The contract is with Modern Communications Inc., based in Fenton, Mo. Maitret has said the company was selected because their equipment is compatible with Lindenwood and Charter.

Ward 6 Alderman Bob White, who was elected in April, had been voluntarily recording public meetings and posting the videos on YouTube since before the election.

Televising and live streaming public meetings became a campaign issue as some candidates rallied for more open government.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden and former Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore, both of whom ran against Eckert for mayor, said such improvements would give residents better access and information.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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