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Regional planning office sifts through technologies looking for ways to make government work more efficiently.
[February 20, 2011]

Regional planning office sifts through technologies looking for ways to make government work more efficiently.


Feb 20, 2011 (The Hawk Eye - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- WEST BURLINGTON -- Even with the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, technology and social media have proven valuable assets for the government-funded agency in providing services.



The red tape often associated with government agencies has been speeded up. SEIRPC files most of its grants online at grants.gov, which cuts down on processing time. In fact, most of the commission's correspondence with the federal government is done electronically.

"There's been a big reduction in paper in the last six years," said Mike Norris, director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission.


The agency does a lot of web-based reporting with the Iowa Department of Transportation, and much of its work with the I-Jobs program was done online.

"With the state, there is a lot more paperwork," Norris admitted, because the state hasn't fully embraced the thought of a paperless society.

SEIRPC is looking into establishing its own Facebook page. Other agencies around the state already have jumped on the social network site.

"Facebook is a good public tool," said Zach James, planning director at SEIRPC.

"So many people are using it and are on it all the time," Norris added. "You distribute it (information) to so many people. Getting input from people on Facebook would be convenient." For the time being, SEIRPC puts a great deal of information on its website, www.seirpc.com. All the commission's services are listed on the site, along with applications for grants and other programs.

"We are doing some preliminary stuff to revamp the website," Norris said.

He hopes to see the website undergo an overhaul this summer.

On the technological side, SEIBUS switched from a Motorola radio system to a Nextel phone system. SEIBUS is the commission's transportation service to help residents get from place to place in southeast Iowa.

"It is used like a walkie-talkie," said Bob Kuskowski, the transportation director for SEIRPC, of the Nextel phone system.

The Nextel phone system allows a dispatcher to contact any SEIBUS driver from the West Burlington headquarters to the outer reaches of the service's coverage area to Keokuk, Mount Pleasant and Wapello.

"It's just like a speaker phone call," Kuskowski said.

SEIRPC also uses a Comet Tracker service, which involves GPS.

With the tracking service connected to the phones, the dispatcher is able to see on a computer where each SEIBUS driver is on their route and what speed they are traveling. With the service, SEIRPC gets a weekly report on each driver.

"We get reports drivers are going too slow or too fast," Kuskowski said.

When the commission gets such complaints from the public, SEIRPC can check the report. The report has vindicated some drivers, because it was determined they weren't traveling too slow or too fast. The system has been in place about a year.

The Comet Tracker is about 85 percent functional compared to a GPS system installed in each vehicle. At one-hundredth of the cost, Norris feels SEIRPC saved money, while still having a useful tool to monitor its SEIBUS routes.

Geographic Information Systems is another tool SEIRPC could use more in the future.

The city of Burlington used GIS to develop its enterprise zone.

Norris feels SEIRPC could use GIS more for planning purposes. GIS can be used to determine utility rates in neighborhoods and find vacant and abandoned buildings. SEIRPC can use GIS to create its own data sets.

"We can use it to prioritize projects," Norris said.

The mapping provided by GIS helps give SEIRPC a visual on whether a project will work.

A pilot program being instituted in Mount Pleasant is a travel command analysis. The program can model where travel demand is coming from in terms of road and street usage. The information gathered can determine whether roads need to be widened or changed due to traffic patterns.

SEIRPC is not only staying on top of its services, but finding better and faster ways to get the job done.

To see more of The Hawk Eye or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.thehawkeye.com. Copyright (c) 2011, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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