“The company that we use to host our website and our email went to a new platform a few years ago and we had to get to this platform by this spring,” said Bonnie Reemsnyder, the first selectwoman in Old Lyme. “We are a bit behind the eight ball on this one.”
The website, according to Reemsnyder and other town hall employees, is a huge improvement over the old, email-based Virtual Town Hall version. Since Old Lyme started using Virtual Town Hall’s website services the company merged with CivicPlus which required the update.
“The website we had prior to this was email-based. We had to go in through the backend and email information to the page if we wanted it to appear on the site,” said Cathy Frank, the executive assistant in the selectman’s office of Old Lyme for the past 20 years.
The site had other challenges as well. Since it was not web-based, there was a set number of users that could update and access the site from the backend. Also, it had no mobile or scheduling capabilities.
“If something happened on the weekend like a last minute meeting or event like the mid-summer festival we could not from a mobile device post that information,” Frank said. “There were things that had to wait or it meant special trips for someone to come into the office, it was a clumsy procedure.”
The new site allows posts, meetings, events and announcements to be scheduled for any time in the future. It also has a mobile version and no limit to the number of users that can update it. However, it has not gone up without any hiccups.
“We are continuing to hear about material that is in the wrong place or missing from the website,” Frank said. “Civicplus did the migration from the old site to the new and people have been kind enough to let us know when they can’t find something.”
The migration to a new address has also caused problems for those searching for a specific page of the site. The first link that appears is often to the previous, inactive site. Reemsnyder suggests starting from the home page.
“It’s a step in the right direction and certainly towns and municipalities need to meet the needs of the committees and commissions. As we go along we probably will think of things to add to the site,” said Howard Margules, the co-chair of the Economic Development Commission and member of the Halls Road Improvements Committee.
The first thing to add might be online payment methods, Frank said.
“People want to be able to pay for everything online and that’s been a request for some time,” Frank said. “Right now people can pay taxes online and we are working on adding functions like birth certificates, marriage licenses, dog registration, fishing license and beach stickers. We very much want to catch up to the times.”
But catching up takes time, and even more time when you are a municipality working under federal and state regulations. For now, residents and active volunteers like Margules are giving the website a “definite maybe” in terms of usability.
The FirstClass email system used by the committees and commissions may also be a “maybe” in terms of usability. At the last Open Spaces Commission and Recycling and Waste Management Committee, committee members discussed the challenging interface, which forced some members to communicate through private email.
Both Frank and Reemsnyder said they had no problem with the FirstClass system and have heard no complaints from any volunteers. The email system was not updated along with the website.
“The only time we would be fixing things is if people are communicating with us that they are running into a problem,” Reemsnyder said.