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Bel Air headed to website and park upgrades

Bel Air is headed for some major upgrades in the coming weeks, the Bel Air town commissioners announced during a work session Tuesday evening, and one of them has already generated some controversy.

The town's website is headed toward a facelift. The commissioners are looking to roll out a more "robust," user-friendly site in the coming weeks, using a new hosting company.

But early reports of the switch caused the current hosting contractor to pull the plug on the site by Thursday morning.

Frank Memmo, owner of THUD Interactive, which hosts the town's website declined to comment on why the site was taken down. He said he expected the site to be up and running again sometime on Thursday.

Town Director of Administration Michael L. Krantz said the town is looking to "piggyback" on an existing Caroline County contract with CivicPlus, a government website and content management company, to redesign and host a new, up-to-date website.

"Our current website is behind the times in format and functionality," Krantz said. "There are times when the website goes down and on our end it requires an out-of-date browser to manage it internally."

The town's contract with CivicPlus is estimated to cost around $20,789. Under the contract, CivicPlus would redesign and host the Bel Air town website and provide a website redesign every four years.

"We don't have that redesign with our present company," Krantz said during the work session.

Krantz said the new website will have sections for an agenda center, emergency alerts, calendar, archives, business development center and the possibility for an integrated social media component. He said the website would also have a space for community concerns so residents can raise issues without calling town hall.

Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said the new website will also provide the options for residents to acquire several permits online. He said the town's fence permit is already available online and will be integrated into the site design.

The town's current web manager, THUD, hosts the site for $540 per year. Krantz said THUD charges the town an average of $4,800 per year including hosting, updates, graphics and other add-on services. Krantz said the new contract would be about $800 a year cheaper, plus include a redesign.

Memmo said he was unaware the Town of Bel Air was looking for alternative host and design companies for its website. He said he found out after reading an earlier version of the story online.

"I always believe in leading my clients in the best direction," Memmo said. "If this new company, which specializes in government sites, will have them spending less than they would have spent with me to get what they want, then I would have told them it was a good move."

Krantz said Memmo and his staff provided the Town of Bel Air with "years of excellent customer service and functionality" in the nearly five years THUD has designed, developed and hosted their site.

"The town's relationship with Mr. Memmo and his staff has always been positive and effective," Krantz said. "I would highly recommend THUD Interactive to any person or organization seeking web design and development services."

Park upgrades

Town commissioners said they continue to look forward to the completion of the renovations at Plumtree and Shamrock parks.

Kevin Small, director of Planning and Community Development, said the renovations at Plumtree Park will be completed soon. Plumtree Park is being upgraded with pavers along the stream, a new pavilion, seating and new lights.

The improvement at Shamrock's William A. Humbert Amphitheater are nearly complete. Upgrades include a new paint job, upgraded speakers and screen projectors. Shamrock also received a new fountain, benches and pavers.

The next town meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Bel Air Town Hall.

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