Motorists who are given parking tickets in Buffalo will soon be able to pay their fines via the Internet.
Beginning in April, parking violators will be invited to become cyberspace guinea pigs -- pioneers in Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's e-government initiative.
By summer, City Hall's push to harness computer technology to improve customer service will extend to payment of the garbage user fee. By fall, dozens of city permits and licenses will be added to the mix.
Programmers said residents eventually will be able to use the Internet to determine parking restrictions on every city street, obtain zoning information and perhaps one day pinpoint the exact locations of snowplows.
In addition, vendors who sell goods and services to the city will be able to monitor their invoices as they move through the process.
"We're taking a fast-track approach to the mayor's e-government initiative," said John J. Zebracki, who heads the city's data-processing unit. "Residents will start to see some real progress within the next two months. Within a year or so, many of these services will be available on the city's new Web site."
Zebracki said the city will soon acquire a new, more "user-friendly" Web site domain name. The city's current Internet address is www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/city/index.html.
Masiello announced Thursday that a Buffalo technology company has been awarded a contract to develop the Internet site. Algonquin Studios, a nine-employee company located in downtown's "Byte Belt," said it will hire three or four new workers to handle the city project.
President Stephen M. Kiernan said company staff members have been studying Web sites that are used by other cities, including Milwaukee and Mobile, Ala.
"It's sort of like looking over your neighbor's fence when you're in the market for a new car," Kiernan said. The city sent requests for information to 13 computer technology companies, and four responded. Masiello said he is pleased that much of the work is going to a small, but growing, downtown business.
The mayor announced the e-government initiative in his State of the City address last month, contending that emerging technology can make government more responsive to residents. A recent study commissioned by Deloitte & Touche, a worldwide accounting firm, projected that within a year, more than one-third of all U.S. citizens will use the Internet as a "primary access point" to government.
"We have to come out of the Dark Ages," said Masiello. "Putting Buffalo on the Internet will help us to be more competitive and more efficient."
The city has earmarked $150,000 for Web site development, though coordinators expect the figure to increase as new phases are implemented. Kiernan said Web designers will meet with commissioners in every city department to better understand how the Internet can improve customer service.
For example, staff members have begun to focus on developing a Web-based system for processing certain types of building permits and licenses. Zebracki said the city will work with Hansen Technologies, a California company that has developed a Web interface for the permit process.