GLASGOW – In her first few months as Barren County's clerk, Helena Chase Birdwell has accomplished two of the centerpieces of her campaign.
The clerk's office's website has been updated and the office has become a walk-in passport application site.
“We updated the website within the first, like four to six weeks of me taking office,” Birdwell said. “The individuals that have used our website have given great feedback on it. It's kind of a one-stop shop. If you need information on motor vehicles, if you need information about elections, real estate, we tried to put everything we could into that website, and the links that you would need.”
For example, instead of searching online for the Kentucky Secretary of State's website for voter registration, a link from the clerk's office site will take you right there, she said.
“You've been able to renew your vehicle [registration] online for some time, but it was kind of tricky to get there. You had to know where to go,” Birdwell said. “Now, if you just know how to get on our website, you can go there, and one click and it takes you straight to motor vehicles.”
To do that, a person can't have any delinquent taxes and it can't be past the renewal date, she said.
“I have found that this is super handy for individuals who, they go out of town and they're going to buy a car from another individual, and they call us and ask, 'What do we need?' There's a [VTR] form that you need and whenever you call us ..., we can direct you to our website and you're able to pull up that form and print it."
The person can take care of the some entire transactions online. In other cases, the preliminary information and the form that will need to be completed are online, but it has to be taken to the clerk's office. That still allows the person get questions answered anytime, get the document completed at their convenience and have it ready to go when they get to the office.
“Whatever you need, we have tried to put it on this website, and we've tried to make it user friendly,” Birdwell said.
At this point, she hasn't collected any data on which pages or links get used the most, but just from the feedback she's received from users, she said she believes the “forms” area is the most popular.
The county had already been paying a company to perform this type of service, so there was no additional cost for the website development, she said.
In the past couple of weeks, throughout the Barren County Government Center, not just in the clerk's office, a new phone system was installed to replace the old one that was persistently causing problems.
For the clerk's office in particular, though, that meant the option to have an automated message when the call is “answered.” The system is used to help route callers to the person(s) best able to assist them.
She said they don't want the experience to be confusing or frustrating, and if there's any doubt about which button to push, simply choose zero.
“We're just trying to make it easier for the customer,” Birdwell said. “That was my goal from Day One.”
She said that improving customer service is a big focus, but in these modernizing efforts, she also doesn't want to leave behind those are aren't as technologically inclined or informed.
She said the office was able to start accepting passport applications at the first of May. The only other ones in Barren County are at U.S. post offices, and appointments are required there and the hours are typically more limited.
The website has the information necessary to get the ball rolling with that process, including details on the photo requirements, forms to complete for new applications or renewals, and much more.
“This is a great service that I'm excited to offer here in Barren County as a second passport acceptance facility for this county,” Birdwell said. “It was a process.”
She said she started working the the U.S. Department of State in January to get the office approved. It had to apply, and it got a preapproval, and then she had to complete another portion of the application process.
“Our facility got approved; then myself and two deputy clerks went through an online training program,” Birdwell said. “We do have to take continuing education classes every year to stay approved acceptance agents.”
After all three of them passed, their certificates had to be mailed to get the final OK.
“We still don't take pictures, but I'm in the process of trying to order the equipment,” Birdwell said. “I just wanted to kind of get us up and running and then I was going to order that. But there's no reason to not, at this point. We have a lot of interest.”
Until that arrives, applicants need to bring the hard copy of their passport photo with them. The guidelines are very detailed about what kinds can be allowed, she said.
She said people have come from a few of the surrounding counties, up to 45 minutes away, to apply for passports there.
She said that other than the camera equipment, which will be roughly $2,000, the process of getting the office approved as an application acceptance facility didn't cost anything. When photos are available, there will be a separate charge for that, as there would be elsewhere, and that will ultimately more than make up the cost of the equipment, Birdwell said.
Barren County Clerk's Office