E-forms come to Mardi Gras

Mobile, Ala., which recently embarked on an ambitious e-government initiative, tried a high-tech approach to planning this year's Mardi Gras festivities, which begin today.

The city posted an electronic form on its World Wide Web site (www.ci.mobile.al.us) so that businesses could request applications for street vendor licenses.

The online form provided the city's Revenue Department with the basic contact information needed to start a file and mail out a full license application. It also simplified the city's data entry process and saved the applicants a trip to City Hall.

Only a small percentage of businesses used the online form, which was posted in mid-January, but enough businesses used the form to show its promise, said Paul Arnold, a Mobile revenue manager. "Have we had hundreds of hits? No, but we have had more than we thought, and we will do better next year and the year after that."

Along with form, the city posted license fees, parade routes and schedules and other information such businesses frequently request when applying for licenses. This information, like the online form, made it easier for everyone involved the process.

"We have people come from different parts of the country: If we get this information out there to them, they have a much better understanding of what the costs and requirements are," Arnold said. "And it makes it easier for our counter people if [the applicants] have all this information ahead of time."

Mobile likely will have the full street vendor application online by next year's Mardi Gras, he said. In December, Mayor Mike Dow announced that the city would attempt to develop 12 or more online transactions this year as part of an initiative called E-Gov 2000.

Many of the ideas for online transactions are coming from a Management Information Systems User Group, which includes about 15 individuals from various departments.

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