The City of Manitou Springs Embraces Digital Optimization with Help from CivicPlus
The Need for Efficiency and Transparency
According to Alex Trefry, City of Manitou Springs Public Information and Engagement Officer, when the COVID-19 pandemic originally necessitated the closing of Manitou Springs’ City Hall, local leaders committed to maintaining operations that would facilitate citizen trust.
“The closure was hard on every department,” said Trefry. “We quickly had to move to online meetings and remote work. We didn’t want our citizens to feel separate from us, so we posted our staff members’ contact information online to reaffirm that while our doors were closed, we were still here serving our residents.”
Trefry and his fellow leaders knew they needed to quickly adapt many of their citizen service workflows to enable online access to files, forms, and requests since citizens could not walk into City Hall or place a phone call to a department office.
“While it was necessary to migrate forms online due to COVID-19, we knew that implementing online services would ultimately be easier for both residents and staff, rather than managing paper processes,” said Trefry. “By implementing an online form management solution, my goal was to make it easier for both parties involved and to enhance the typical experience of filling out a form.”
The City of Manitou Springs uses CivicPlus’ CivicEngage website design and hosting solution, so when it needed a robust forms tool, it turned to its partner, CivicPlus.
“When I saw the Productivity tool, I knew it would make an impact and help us make forms easily accessible to our community,” said Trefry.
Manitou Springs used CARES Act funding to help pay for their purchase of the CivicOptimize Productivity forms solution.
CivicOptimize Productivity Use Case: Tax Forms
One of the most immediately impactful opportunities for Trefry to use Productivity was in the migration of the City’s various tax forms from downloadable PDFs to online forms.
“We have a fair amount of tax forms that our businesses need to complete monthly,” said Trefry. “Previously, we were using PDFs that weren’t editable or easily accessible. A user would have to log on to our website, fill out the form, download it, print it, and email it in. We knew the process had room for improvement.”
The tax forms also required users to complete a series of complex calculations to determine their tax payment. This requirement left room for inadvertent errors and added work for the City’s Finance Department to review and check the calculations.
Trefry recreated the paper forms using Productivity, designing them to automatically calculate the user’s taxes based on the submitted data. Converting the downloadable forms to an online interface and automating the calculations made the monthly process easier for citizens, more accurate, and freed up time for the City’s Financial Team.
True to its promise of being a solution easy enough for even non-technical staff members to build custom forms and applications, Trefry says that he learned to quickly build forms in Productivity.
“My degree is in Political Science, I work in communications, and Math is not my strong suit, but I was still able to build the forms with the custom calculations pretty quickly.”
Predictions for the Future of Contactless Government
When Trefry spoke with CivicPlus, Manitou Springs was again limiting in-person citizen interactions with staff as a cautionary measure to mitigate ongoing COVID-19 spread. In thinking about the future of government-citizen interactions and whether the current contactless government trend is short or long-term, Trefry says he expects to see a permanent but not entirely decentralized shift to digital.
“Especially for small governments like ours, we have such a high workload, and there are so many things that we are striving to do for our community, that automations which eliminate busy-work that takes up so much time are helpful. It allows us to focus on more strategic things than processing forms or figuring out where paper copies went. From a citizens’ perspective, certain processes are definitely easier completed online too, especially filling out forms. I imagine many processes that have moved online due to COVID-19 will stay that way. There will always be instances, however, where an in-person interaction is more appropriate. In Manitou Springs, we’re very close to our citizenry. We want to be transparent, not distanced. As the Public Information and Engagement Officer for the City, it’s important to me that we engage our citizens and remain close to them. We trust them and want them to trust us.”