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Amherst municipal website wins award as paperless billing expands

From paying a bill to seeking a property card to looking for a job posting or reviewing minutes from a Select Board meeting, www.amherstma.gov is the place to go.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association recently recognized the thoroughness of the website by giving Amherst an honorable mention, in the category of communities with populations between 15,000 and 49,999, at its Municipal Website Awards last weekend.

Town Manager John Musante said the website was evaluated for content, professionalism, thoroughness and functionality, and the award recognizes what town officials call the Open Government to the Max initiative.

“I am proud of the simplicity, the many unique and forward-thinking features and the functionality offered by the town website to both visitors and residents,” Musante said.

Musante points to the working group for Safe and Health Neighborhoods, which meets weekly and frequently updates its section of the website with a large quantity of information related to the process of moving toward a rental registration and inspection system.

The only town to rank higher in Amherst’s population category was Westford, which took the top prize. Other winners were Cambridge, Chatham and Dunstable, with Sterling earning the other honorable mention.

Information Technology Director Kristopher Pacunas said he appreciates the recognition.

“We take a lot of pride and work very hard to deliver solutions to the Amherst community we believe are the best,” Pacunas said.

He said the community seems to see the value of the website, with 1,500 unique visitors using it each day. He said the town has seen an annual 25 percent increase in the number of people checking the site.

“We know this will be the biggest year,” Pacunas said.

The website is also approaching 20,000 transactions annually for payments, from property tax bills to fees for Leisure Services and Supplemental Education classes to parking tickets.

Pacunas said the website is an important part of Amherst’s efforts to help the environment.

“I see the website as a big proponent and piece of going green,” Pacunas said.

Each transaction completed online, he said, could mean one less drive to Town Hall or one less bill that has to be printed and mailed.

A few months ago, the town launched what he calls an integrated system, known as Anytime Self Service, in which all bills that need to be paid are shown online and payments can be made.

People are also encouraged to sign up for paperless billing, which will be promoted when residents receive their water and sewer bills beginning in February. This will allow the town to send emails reminding residents when they have to pay their bills.

“We’re very, very forward thinking,” Pacunas said.

While IT maintains the infrastructure of the website, Pacunas said some members of boards and committees and town staff have access to certain areas to update the content.

Among the newest sections is Sustainable Amherst, which has information on the town’s myriad efforts at going green.

Musante also praised Maria Racca, financial analyst and IT specialist, and Michael Olkin, the geographic information systems administrator, for their contributions to the success of the website.

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