Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
Electronic improvements in Newport Beach, California, are a scofflaw's nemesis and a revenue official's dream.
The city has developed a system that can connect all city department databases and compare city information to state business license and sales tax information. The data comparisons can show, for instance, which businesses are operating without paying for a city business license. The result has been an additional $890,000 in new business taxes--the city usually collects $3 million a year in business taxes-- since the program began in January 2004.
Funds also are coming in from residents who failed to pay city fines and fees. In the past, one department could be processing a refund to a resident while another department was canceling a service for lack of payment. "We were sending refund checks to people who owed thousands of dollars," says Glen Everroad, city revenue manager.
Now, whenever residents request anything from the city, from a business registration to a dog license, city representatives see if they owe any money. If, say, they have unpaid parking tickets and are owed a refund on another service, the money will be transferred from the refund account to pay off the outstanding amount.
The new system sends residents one bill--a municipal services statement--instead of separate bills for different services. Newport Beachers can write one check for a water bill, a parking ticket and a false-alarm fee. Or they can navigate online to whichever services they're ready to pay and pay one or all of them using a credit card.
"Connecting all those dots has been a huge benefit for us in terms of customer service," Everroad says.