N.Y. county making strides online

Christened by Vice President Al Gore last year as the nation's first "Access America Community," an upscale New York county government is making good on that designation and connecting with its residents online.

Westchester County's Web site, which receives about 18,000 hits each month, is offering several new services:

    * Helping residents find the cheapest gasoline in the area.

    * Providing an interactive program for people concerned about the well-being of teenagers and senior citizens.

    * Matching residents and businesses in need of private garbage-hauling services.

"Our goal here is to establish as much of a virtual government as possible," said county executive Andrew Spano, who said the Web site is managed in-house. "You want to provide easy, comprehensive access to government services relevant to the Internet that will enhance face-to-face contact."

One of those services is the Community Help Desk, an interactive pilot project for parents or guardians concerned about their teenagers becoming violent or being subjected to violence. A similar program exists for people concerned about the physical or emotional condition of senior citizens.

The question-and-answer format in the Youth at Risk and Seniors at Risk sections carries users through a checklist of questions and asks for descriptions of the at-risk person's behavior. Answers are analyzed and recommendations are given, including appropriate agencies to contact.

Spano said the site, developed with the help of county agencies and experts in elder abuse, family service and mental health, is the beginning of direct-service delivery.

"It's one thing to give them general information, and it's another to give them customized information," he added. "It never cuts out a real person or face-to-face possibility."

Another popular online service is the county's survey of gasoline prices from its 400 or so gas stations. Since June 29, the county has tracked the average price of a gallon of regular gas. It allows consumers to search for lower prices throughout the district.

The county is also pairing businesses and individuals who don't have municipal garbage collection with private, licensed garbage haulers. Consumers are able comparison shop from the "registry" of county-licensed or soon-to-be-licensed haulers.

Westchester's Web site also includes interactive access to the county's geographic information system, free e-mail for senior citizens and electronic postcards to lobby legislative leaders on the state and national levels. Spano said future enhancements could include multilingual capabilities.

Westchester County encompasses 43 cities, towns and villages and has a population of more than 900,000.


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