COVINGTON - Newton County's website will be getting a makeover.
County commissioners approved Tuesday night a contract with Vision Internet Providers Inc. out of Santa Monica, Calif., to upgrade the website, at a cost of $19,975, plus an annual maintenance fee of $6,000.
Although the county won a contest with a different company, CivicPlus, for a free website makeover, offered to the worst government websites across the country, commissioners opted not to contract with them, because of hefty fees that would kick in after two years and because they provide a template design while Vision Internet can customize the website. A committee including Commissioners Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz heard a presentation from three providers and determined Vision Internet was the superior product.
County Manager John Middleton noted that the website is difficult to use.
"I did not really think we had one of the top 10 worst sites in the United States, but apparently we did," Middleton said, referring to the contest. Middleton said that a drawback to the free makeover from CivicPlus is that the contract would have to be accepted as is and could not be modified.
Sims, who owns and operates a digital marketing company that designs websites, said CivicPlus would not provide a lot of room to expand in the future. In contrast, Vision Internet will customize the site to the county's liking, allow for upgrades in the future, including a free redesign after four years of use.
"When anybody is thinking about Newton County the first thing they do is Google us -- that first impression goes a long way," he said.
The county will also have the capability to send email blasts and texts to notify citizens of emergency situations and other information.
Sims said the website will be a means of engaging and educating citizens.
"It's hard to communicate with the citizens of this county. We have no one way of communicating. Everybody doesn't get the same utility bill, everybody doesn't get the same cable," he noted.
In addition to being more user-friendly for citizens, the website could provide branding to attract economic development, said Schulz, who has been pushing for a website upgrade since 2009.
The county has $38,000 already set aside for a website upgrade. The project is expected to take between four and six months to complete.