• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Building Capacity

Four women stand next to each other under the shade of a tree.
Woodville City Clerk Cathy McCurley (left) with deputy clerks

Small town builds big online presence

The Woodville Board of Aldermen was ready. It was 2014, and the officials concluded that the city needed a website to offer residents and tourists up-to-date information about city services, community events, and tourist attractions.

City Clerk Cathy McCurley was appointed to create and maintain the new website for the southwest Mississippi town. The only problem? She knew nothing about building websites.

“I’m not computer-savvy,” McCurley laughs. “Our board had been talking about it for several months. They wanted that site. Then, our Extension Service agent, Ann Davis, put us in touch with Sarah Pittman.”

Pittman directs the Website Outreach Program through the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Center for Technology Outreach. Over about 6 months, she helped McCurley and her deputy clerks gather the necessary information, sort through it, and organize it on a user-friendly webpage.

“Sarah offered, through Extension, to build the website for us. She pretty much did most of the nuts and bolts part. She led us, and she did a wonderful job,” McCurley explains.

Pittman walked McCurley and her deputies through each step of the process. They discussed what kinds of information residents and visitors might need, as well as how it should be separated and organized on webpages.

Launched in January 2015, woodvillems.org allows residents to pay their utility bills, property taxes, and court fees online, McCurley emphasizes.

“One thing that has been a really big deal is that people can go on the website to pay their utilities,” McCurley says. “It’s very easy, and people had been asking for this service for a long time.”

Many older residents don’t feel comfortable paying their bills online, she explains. Therefore, many people call the clerk’s office with their account number and payment information, and staff members use the online system to pay on their behalf.

The website also offers an ideal way to notify residents of service problems, as well as community celebrations—“things that customers need to know,” McCurley says. In addition, customers can contact her directly through the site to ask questions or report outages.

The website seems to be attracting tourists, too. McCurley explains that, in a town where everyone knows everyone, more visitors seem to be coming. New tourists are discovering local festivals, parades, and landmarks.

“People who didn’t know we existed are coming from all over to visit Woodville,” she says. “The website is giving us this type of exposure that keeps our Main Street active. Even the people who are just passing through are seeing it’s a wonderful place to stop and relax.”

Much of the credit, McCurley emphasizes, goes to the people working with Extension. Other Extension employees who played major roles in bringing the website online, along with Pittman and Davis, include Chance McDavid, senior Extension associate, and Dale Moore, web developer. McDavid developed content and chose pictures, while Moore helped build the template for the site.

At the end of the day, though, Davis and Pittman enabled the elected officials in Woodville to better serve their constituents and visitors, and McCurley says she is very grateful for their help.

“Ann Davis and I grew up together. She’s a huge asset to the community. She knows what’s going on in the county and is always ready to point us in the right direction. She actually wrote a lot of what’s on the website,” McCurley says. “Sarah made it extremely easy. She is 100-percent accessible; she even answered us when she was on vacation. She is a dependable partner, and she’s there if we need her.

“This is not a job to her. She feels like this is a gift she is sharing. She has this knowledge and she wants to share. Any town would be lucky to work with her and with Extension.”

MSU Extension Service
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Extension Matters cover volume 3 number 1.