Over the past year, the town of Dedham has digitized several of its sewer forms, saving residents and staff time and energy, and pointing the town toward a more electronic future.

Now, Dedham sewer customers can submit their irrigation meter readings, request a sewer bill adjustment or abatement, update their account information, or request a final sewer bill all by using digital forms.

Town officials say the change improves convenience for residents, frees up staff time to work on other tasks, and reduces the likelihood of human error in form submissions. Though Dedham has created only a few digitized forms so far, the change represents a move toward greater interactivity, said Town Manager Leon Goodwin.

“I’ve been working in municipal government now for more than a decade, and sometimes we’re slow to adopt new technology in the municipal world,” Goodwin said. “At the end of the day, we’re all doing the same thing – we’re providing customer service, and providing services to our citizens. And if we can use technology to be more accessible to them, all the better.”

Andrea Terkelsen, Dedham’s finance director and comptroller, has overseen the digitization of documents in her department and has been working with a vendor, SeamlessDocs, to convert existing forms into electronic forms accessible via the town’s website.

Terkelsen said the updated process allows the town to provide better customer service to its residents, at a time when technology is upending expectations about how, where and when constituents interact with their local governments.

“This allows us to tap into a growing segment of the population who want to do things wherever they are,” Terkelsen said.

The conversion of the irrigation meter reading form serves as an example of the time savings realized for staff and residents. The town has about 8,000 sewer accounts, about 650 of which involve the use of irrigation meters that track how much water goes into the ground, instead of into the sewer system; customers who have these meters receive credits against their sewer bills.

Before, the town would mail irrigation-meter postcards out for customers to fill out, and staff would enter and verify the results manually. Now, residents can complete the electronic form and attach a photo of the meter, so staff can check the meter readings against the forms.

“We’re saving hours of staff time and improving accuracy, while eliminating all these manual steps,” Terkelsen said.

She estimated that the town saved about 30 staff hours during the last submission cycle – for that one irrigation form.

To roll out the new effort, the treasurer’s office sent letters to residents, and set up a computer in the office to help people who came in with questions, Terkelsen said.

With the processes the town has in place, Terkelsen said, it would be possible for its sewer administration to become 100% paperless. And beyond the sewer and other forms digitized by the Finance Department, the town has dozens of forms it could convert.

“It’s going to be very helpful for other departments to have forms on their website for the public to use,” Terkelsen said. “It’s also going to help our internal processes.”

Even small communities can deliver some “quick wins” with technology, Terkelsen said, with relatively inexpensive products and services that are available in the market.

“Just consider it, and see how it goes,” Terkelsen said. “If there’s apprehension, grow it slowly.”

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