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(Cherry Hill, N.J.) – Cherry Hill Township has one of the top municipal websites in the state, according to a study released this week by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and Graduate Program in Public Policy.
The Township website (www.CherryHill-NJ.com) was ranked 15th overall in a study of 540 New Jersey Municipalities, and received top recognition for citizen interaction – that is, the number of opportunities available for residents to engage their local government and elected officials.
Representatives from the Township accepted their awards at an event Thursday at the university.
“This is very exciting news,” Mayor Chuck Cahn said. “Our online services are something we have worked hard to expand in the last year, and I am proud that we have been so successful in making information available to all those who live and work in Cherry Hill.”
According to the Monmouth study, municipal websites are the first place residents turn for information about their communities. Technology can help streamline the dissemination of information, and, in turn, reduce the amount of phone calls and foot traffic coming in and out of municipal offices.
Township officials had those same factors in mind when they redesigned the Cherry Hill website in March 2012. While the address stayed the same, the site’s look, feel and usability were completely overhauled to improve the user’s experience. The new site was designed by CivicPlus, but is maintained and updated by Township staff.
“When I took office, I promised to make government work more efficiently and effectively,” Cahn said. “Our new site has streamlined the way information is distributed and the way we interact with the people we serve. Residents can get what they need 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wherever they are. They don’t need to spend time sitting on a phone, or take time away from work to visit our offices. That’s what I call efficiency.”
The new site serves as a “Virtual Town Hall” of sorts that allowed residents to find news, alerts, and events, as well as public records request forms, pet license and permit applications, bid postings, meeting agendas and minutes, ordinances and resolutions, and the municipal budget without having to visit or call Town Hall. Other key features include expanded e-mail alerts, a comprehensive calendar, and an enhanced Citizen Request Tracker that is also available as a free iPhone app.
Cherry Hill has also sharpened its focus on social media, expanding its presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“Technology allows government to work not only for the people, but with the people it serves,” Cahn said. “Most importantly, it creates a more informed citizenry, and encourages public engagement. Simply put, it makes this community work.”
Earlier this year, the Township expanded its list of e-mail alerts to include free tax- and sewer-bill reminders, and launched a searchable database of property tax and sewer information.
Monmouth’s researchers evaluated a total of 540 municipalities statewide, assigning each town a weighted score based on several criteria, including the amount and type of information available, the number of services available electronically, the level of citizen interaction, and the use of social media to enhance the user experience. Cherry Hill received a total score of 153.1. The full 25-page report can be found online at www.Monmouth.edu/polling.
Researchers say the goal of the study was to develop best practices that will help towns across New Jersey enhance their existing sites.
“We have made great progress and I am proud of what my administration has achieved thus far, but our ultimate goal is to be No. 1,” Cahn said. “In that spirit, I encourage residents to reach out and let us know what we can do better.”
Residents who have questions, comments or concerns can call the Mayor’s Office at (856) 488-7878, or e-mail the Mayor directly at MayorCahn@chtownship.com.