BELTON — It’s pretty easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. At the bottom of the home page of the Bell County website is a link to a new era in county interaction: mobile applications.
The Bell County technology services department is beta testing the county’s first app called CountyConnect.
The program allows county residents to upload nonemergency requests for service and photos directly from their mobile phones.
“If someone sees a couple of old couches on the side of the road, instead of calling in and saying where they are, they can open up the app, take a picture, tag it with GPS data and send it in,” said Jim Chandler, director of the technology services department. “This is for nonemergency information. We’re going to include a disclaimer saying that if this is an actual emergency call 911 and then people can click on it and it will call the communication center.”
Adam Ward, assistant director of technology services, said this first app was intentionally designed to be a bare-bones product.
“We built it with simplicity in mind,” Ward said. “It doesn’t look like a typical production app because we did it in about a week. We wanted it to function without a lot of bells and whistles.”
Chandler said that as the county was considering its first app, he spoke with some third-party vendors who wanted to charge $25,000 to develop something similar.
“It would have been a lot flashier, but I thought we could get better use of our resources and get something out that the people can get just as much use out of,” Chandler said.
The functionality of the app is only going to grow in the next few days. The current version allows users to file 13 types of requests for service.
The requests go to county departments ranging from the sheriff’s office to the road and bridge department.
Chandler said that after meeting with various department heads, the types of requests that users will be able to file will be expanded to make the app more comprehensive.
“Road and bridge had a lot of suggestions,” Chandler said. “They wanted to expand the amount of requests that residents can file and see if we can tie into the back end of the system they’re currently using.”
Ward said that although the system may seem like a duplication of the services already being provided by 2-1-1, it’s intended to function “in addition to, not instead of” the long-running service number.
“We’re trying to expand citizen engagement and extend county services,” Chandler said.
CountyConnect is only the first step toward that goal.
“We plan to launch an election app before the March primary,” Chandler said. “It will allow users to type in their ZIP code and show them their precinct information, early voting locations and the hours the polls will be open on Election Day.”