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What Your Local Government Can Learn From Miami-Dade County’s Water Rate Hike Website

timeforanupgrade.org

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Here’s our assessment of what makes timeforanupgrade.org work well.

In the state of Florida, Miami-Dade County has had a reputation for having some of the lowest water and sewer rates charged to customers. But such low rates don’t help as infrastructure maintenance and replacement costs pile up.

When a local government is left with few options but to increase its water rates, what’s the best way to communicate the complex finance issues and importance of the infrastructure investments to constituents who are naturally going to be less than pleased to pay more?

Miami-Dade County created a special website, timeforanupgrade.org, to make its case. And that website, developed by the county’s Community Information and Outreach Department, was recently honored with a 2014 MarCom Award, part of an international competition recognizing the best in creative marketing and communications work, mostly from the private sector. (The county won two other MarCom awards as well.)

"There are many ways to serve the public. Our team just happens to excel at serving through storytelling that uses innovative visual, digital and written content to connect with our community," Community Information and Outreach Department Director Henry Sorí said in a statement.

So what made timeforanupgrade.org effective as a communications platform?

Here’s GovExec State & Local’s assessment of what makes the website work:

A clear message: On the website, you’re greeted by some very clear messaging at the top of the page, which stays at the top as you scroll down: “It’s time for an upgrade,” which is reinforced in the URL. Also: “Our water is worth it.”

Use of video: Video is one of the most effective ways to communicate public information. In this case, an informational video about the Water & Sewer Department from 2012 was plugged into the site, a video that clearly lays out facts about the department and the issues related to aging and expensive-to-maintain infrastructure.

Putting the facts in perspective: Yes, Miami-Dade County’s water rates are increasing but the website hammers home these key points:

Your home’s water bill will remain among the lowest in Florida. Improved infrastructure will lead to greater efficiency and reliability. More modern technology will result in fewer expensive emergency repairs. All for just pennies more a day, our water is worth it.

Note how the “our water is worth it” message is repeated here.

Explanatory graphics: Having clearly explained and concise text is certainly important. But providing a visual translation of those facts is sometimes more important. In this case, the message that Miami-Dade County’s water rates will remain among the lowest in Florida is put into chart form. Also, look at how Cape Coral County, which has the highest rates on the chart is positioned right next to Miami-Dade County.

Strategic use of visuals: In Web design, less is usually more. There are only a few photos on the site. The ones that are there serve a specific purpose. In the Infrastructure section, an image of a deteriorating pipe underscores the fact that the infrastructure is getting old, which itself is reinforced by the graphic that uses the number 80 as a dominant visual element. (In this case, the 80 refers to the number of years the infrastructure has been in place.) In the Economic Development section, historic images are used to stress the message of aging infrastructure, which in some cases is hampering future development where some “new businesses requiring new sewer connections simply cannot open.”

How the money be used: Residents might want to know how the additional money generated through higher water and sewer rates is being used. In this case, there’s a chart showing what portion of the $12.6 billion expected to be generated over 15-20 years will be used for water projects and what portion will be used for wastewater improvements. There are links to additional information.

Simple navigation: The site is easy to navigate. Yes, you can click on a particular section of interest and jump to it directly, but you can also easily scroll through the sections. The site is also responsive, so it easily displays on tablets and smartphones. All the information is on one page, so there’s no need to click through layers of pages to access the important information that needs to be communicated.