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User-friendly website a priority for Jackson

fr webjacksonKelly Fuqua doesn’t have a problem saying she’s pretty proud of Jackson County’s website. Before she overhauled it in 2011, the site was getting “complaint after complaint,” and she sank a lot of work into fixing the problem. 

“My primary focus to create this was to make it as user-friendly as possible,” said Fuqua, who is Jackson’s assistant information technology director. “I love the format of it.”  

The site uses an accordion-style design, with categories listed concisely and then unfolding to show greater detail when the user hovers or clicks. Each department has its own website nested underneath the main site, and Fuqua is currently working on developing unique sub-sites for each of Jackson’s 22 departments. So far, she’s finished sites for the sheriff’s, aging and economic development departments. The Parks and Recreation Department is currently under construction, and the Planning Department is next in line. 

“Through time I’ll continue to go that route,” she said. “It takes a long time.” 

In terms of scores, Fuqua’s work is already paying off. Jackson County came out at the top of the heap in The Smoky Mountain News’ ranking of government websites. The site received a 4.2 out of 5, tying Haywood and Macon counties for first place. 

Online services was Jackson’s strongest category — resources for permitting, online payments and property mapping earned it a 4.6 in that area. 

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Transparency was the county’s lowest-scoring area, with a 3.9 out of 5. Lack of meeting videos and limited calendar information dragged the score down. Jackson’s meetings are not videotaped and the site has no straightforward calendar of community events and meetings. However, other components of transparency garnered very high scores. Minutes and agendas — with attachments — extending years back are all posted online, as are photos, email addresses and phone numbers for commissioners. County ordinances are available online and the site contains an employee portal. 

Design also came in on the high end, with mediocre mobile compatibility meeting excellent navigation, functionality and look and feel for a 4 out of 5. 

“I think, generally speaking, it is a very good website,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. “Like anything else, there’s always room for improvement.”

McMahan said he’d like to see a more prominent way to display notices about important upcoming issues and events, for instance, as well as a spot for a weekly update on county business. He agreed with SMN’s assessment that the site could use a better calendar. 

Jackson County’s site comes with one of the highest start-up and maintenance costs of governments in SMN’s coverage area. The main site cost $3,500 to launch, but the combined start-up costs of the main site and departmental sites Fuqua has completed total $22,000. Yearly maintenance costs total $5,700, and while Jackson does not have a full-time web person, Fuqua spends 35 to 50 percent of her time on site-related tasks.

Population: 41,265

2016-17 Budget: $66.2 million

Annual website expense: 5,700

Initial website expense: $22,000

Year launched: 2011

Avg. visits/month: 11,500

Avg. unique visitors/month: 1,234 (Data is for June 2016 only)

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