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City boosts online presence

Kristin Wilkes, information technology manager for the City of Penticton, demonstrates the new web-based payment system that will allow residents to review and pay their city bills online. - Steve Kidd/Western News
Kristin Wilkes, information technology manager for the City of Penticton, demonstrates the new web-based payment system that will allow residents to review and pay their city bills online.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News

Those who find the City of Penticton’s website and the services it provides leave something to be desired now have a friend at City Hall.

The city’s newly promoted manager of information Kristin Wilkes is promising that 2011 will be the year the municipality’s web presence gets a much-needed upgrade.

The city launched its official blog last week, located at www.penticton.ca/blog and will now be engaging with members of the public through Facebook and Twitter.

According to Wilkes, the social media tools will be used as a means for mayor and council to communicate current events and issues to the public in a responsive and timely manner, and as a forum for citizens to express their opinions. It will be the second such blog, as Coun. Dan Albas launched his pentictonpolitics.com last year.

Next, the city is launching its MyCity service, allowing residents to view their various accounts — from taxes and utilities bills to dog and business licences — online.

Wilkes said to sign up, residents can go on the city’s website at www.penticton.ca and select MyCity found under the online services heading. They then enter an email address and a password. From there, using their account number and their access codes found on their (old-fashioned printed) bills, residents can then link up all their different accounts.

In addition, she said, landlords will also be able to view their tenants accounts online — a feature that will be of particular interest to those landlords that have been stuck with the unpaid electrical bills of vanished tenants. Landlords can link up to the tax account for the rental property in question, which will then show them all the utility accounts at that address along with their status.

“They will only be able to view the amount that the tenant is in arrears for past 30 days,” she said.

Initially, Wilkes said, MyCity will be inquiry or view only; however, by mid-year her department intends to implement online payments as well.

According to Wilkes, it took a considerable effort from both the collections department and the IT department to get the viewing portion text encrypted to prevent hackers from accessing people’s codes. Taking credit card payments will require more work.

“We intend for it to be extremely secure when we move towards taking online payment,” she said. “In the future we are also hoping to move to online billing which is where you could sign up and rather than having a bill come to your mailbox, it would go to your email which would cut down on paper, postage costs and staff time. We are hoping to implement that in 2011 but we are waiting for our software developers to design that system so it may be later.”

This year Wilkes said the city will also launch an entirely and completely redesigned website, perhaps Aug. 1.

“The website will be fully functional on all browsers and all systems including mobile phones,” said Wilkes. “Our current website is getting somewhat cluttered and outdated. So it will be a fresh, new design aimed specifically at customer service. It will be more streamlined, easier to use and have a lot more online services.”

city@pentictonwesternnews.com

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