While national studies say more Americans are going online for information, most Prince George’s County municipalities are struggling to make their websites a priority due to limited funds and staffing.
A June report by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of American adults now own a smartphone and an October 2012 report revealed that 19 percent of Americans receive their news or news headlines from social media sites.
Despite the popularity of online services, many county municipal officials say they struggle to provide regular online updates and connect with residents on municipal information.
Of the county’s 27 municipalities, a handful track usage to strategically disseminate government events and important information. One does not have a website.
Laurel’s webmaster, James Cornwell-Shiel, said statistics show the most popular pages on the city’s website. He uses that information to direct attention to a particular event or program that may not get the same traffic on another page.
“It’s making sure various features are getting exposure,” he said.
In Bowie, department heads can update their respective pages as frequently as needed.
“This is where people go for their information now,” said Una Cooper, Bowie’s communications coordinator. “Just like most of us probably don’t go to the phone book to look up a phone number, it’s the same way. We need to put our best foot forward all the time and keep up with the technology.”
Municipalities that are more engaged in updating their websites, like Bowie, reap the benefits of the investment. Bowie had an estimated population of 56,129 in 2012, and the city website currently averages 58,080 monthly unique visitors. Bowie’s information technology budget, which includes the website, is $1.7 million.
Although Colmar Manor’s website maintenance budget is $1,200, officials say they still can provide ongoing information. The site offers weekly updates and a YouTube video, attracting 420 unique visitors each month in the town of 1,429 residents.
In other municipalities, officials say the website would be more of a priority with more time and staff.
Landover Hills Town Manager Kathleen Tavel estimates she updates the site on a monthly basis, but lacks the time to provide more frequent updates.
“I can only do so many things, but if there’s some information I want to get out sooner, I put it up,” Tavel said. “A lot of the information doesn’t change, so if someone is looking for general information, it’s fine for that.”
Bladensburg Town Administrator John Moss said he seeks resident feedback whenever possible.
“I’ll ask them if they find the information on the website interesting and what information is valuable to them,” Moss said. “We’re seeking to get that feedback and bit-by-bit, we modify that information. It’s all part of community engagement.”
Fairmount Heights does not have a website, an issue interim Town Manager Doris Sarumi said was a priority in establishing the town’s fiscal 2014 budget. The town budgeted about $6,500 for the website, which Sarumi said she hopes will be operational by late December.
“Having a website is a more effective tool to communicate with the public,” she said. “It’s an interactive tool citizens can have with their local government. We can post meetings, public access to information such as budget, requests for proposals, job openings and the latest trends in town.”
Sarumi said some form of keeping statistics would “absolutely” be included.
“It’s a way to see what citizens are interested in and who is interested in the town, particularly Realtors, home buyers and businesses,” she said.