“A lot of times that’s the first place people go now to find out about the town or to find information,” said Town Manager Paige Dowling. “As far as a first impression, you want it to be a good one.”
A redesign would certainly give a boost to Sylva’s website rating, created by The Smoky Mountain News. It received an overall 2.5 out of 5, and the average 1.7 score SMN staff gave for its rather outdated look and feel certainly contributed. However, Sylva’s site is relatively easy to navigate and mobile-compatible, attributes that offset its low look and feel score to land it a 3.5 for design.
The town board has been talking about the aesthetic issue since soon after its newly elected members took office in December. The redesign will aim to fix the problem but will not address overall content or navigation.
“It has everything on it that people would need to look at,” Dowling said of the site. “Event information, garbage pickup schedules, agendas, minutes, the budget. I think the content on it is good.”
The site has sections for a spectrum of information that users would expect to find on their town’s website. But SMN’s ranking showed that there’s room for improvement.
For instance, the site hosts only the most current agendas for town meetings, so you can’t go back and research agenda topics from past months or years. Archived minutes are available on the website, but current ones are not posted — the most recent minutes online as of press time are from Feb. 4. In addition, no phone numbers are listed for commissioners, just email addresses. In the transparency category, Sylva earned a 2.5 out of 5.
The site also ranked low in the online services category, earning a 1.4 out of 5. There’s no way to make payments online or to download forms for permit applications. The site houses a zoning map but no link to property mapping, which is available from the county.
However, Sylva’s site is certainly an affordable one, costing $574 per year to maintain and own the domain. Due to staff being out of town, information was not immediately available as to how much the redesign cost in 2010, but Dowling said that GovOffice, the company that did the project, was the most affordable of the companies considered and is also the N.C. League of Municipalities’ preferred vendor.
“With the budget and minutes and agenda packets being on the website,” Dowling said, “there’s an increased level of transparency that really people have come to expect.”
2016-17 Budget: $3 million
Annual website expense: $574
Initial website expense: N/A
Year launched: 2010
Avg. visits/month*: 11,032
Avg. unique visitors/month*: 6,855
* 2015 data not available. Statistic is an average of data for May and June 2016.