King County, Washington, is like many other counties across America. It contains many small cities and towns, some quite near each other-so near, in fact, that people often live and work in different towns. Since each town has its own rules and services, confusion and inefficiency often results from this situation. Contractors, homebuyers, and businesspeople operating across city borders have had to do significant research to understand the particular laws governing each city.
In 2001, after much discussion of the benefits of coordinated information, nine cities and towns in King County joined forces to create the eCityGov Alliance, a single source for information about services in each jurisdiction. Since then, an additional 37 municipalities have signed on as non-voting members, using some of the Alliance's many services to help their residents.
The Alliance maintains four Web sites that provide easy-to-access information about key government services. Citizens can access general city government information and maps through NWMaps.net. MyParksandRecreation.com provides information about courses, parks, and recreational activities operated by member governments. Area residents can now choose from activities sponsored anywhere in their immediate vicinity. Businesses, too, are served by the Alliance. NWProperty.net, formed in association with the Commercial Brokers Association of the Seattle region, provides comprehensive information on commercial real estate for sale.
The Alliance's flagship site, MyBuildingPermit.com, a central point of information about differing city building rules, serves as a useful example of the impressive results brought about by the Alliance's attitude of voluntary cooperation. The site drastically simplifies the mechanism for applying for permits. Instead of sending vehicles and personnel to various city offices with paperwork in hand, contractors can now acquire the needed permits through an efficient online process. As a result, more than 45 percent of permit applications in member cities are obtained through the website. Data indicates that many people who previously built illegally because of the complicated permit structure now get permits.
Member cities pay maintenance costs for the sites on a sliding scale based on their population, so that even small cities can publicize their services. The eCityGov Alliance's sites gain value as new cities join, providing more useful information to citizens, and reducing the share of the fixed cost of maintaining an online presence that each city must bear. Furthermore, city governments see significant savings in providing information to their residents because of the streamlined approach of the websites.
Such a voluntary collaboration between municipalities is unprecedented. Though metropolitan governments exist in some places, they function as an independently sovereign level of government, not as an alliance of equal local authorities. With its low overhead costs, convenient and consistent service to citizens, and a promise of savings to city governments, the eCityGov Alliance offers a model service that can be replicated in similar areas nationwide.