Technology was the topic of several items to come before the Butler County Commission Monday morning.
Among their items was a discussion on expanding and enhancing the data system at various locations in the county.
The commission was presented with a proposal to award Electronic Technology Inc. as the 2013-2014 microwave supplier and authorize the completion of the Microwave Link Refresh and Data Expansion.
"This is the microwave costs for putting information out to all locations," said Scott Stoskopf, chief information officer for the county. "The price went up 22 percent from this time last year when we got our first bids. The companies that climb the towers are now less and they are charging more."
Commissioner Ed Myers asked if they were currently satisfying the requirement for access to information.
"Yes, but with a radio system that is five years old, if it goes down, we have to get one ordered in and set up," Stoskopf said. "We really don't like our mission critical locations to be waiting for a failure. We would rather put a new system there and find a less mission critical place for the old system."
Myers asked about how this would impact the wait time at the western tag office. The report said it could cut the time by 25 to 30 percent, but he had thought it would be more like 65 to 70 percent.
"The data increase will be drastically better, but I am underestimating that promise," Stoskopf said. "Our feeling is as the data improves, the population grows at that location. What we gain in speed we're going to lose in the fact more people show up."
Myers also questioned that there was no contract or agreement.
Stoskopf said if they go forward the county will set down with the company and develop a performance document, which will be brought back for approval.
"Today they would take this commission vote as permission to start ordering hardware," he said. "Then we will set down and start creating the document on performance."
The two projects included in this would total $275,000.
"There's no way we can provide the bandwidth we need to support our citizens at those remote locations for less than we are paying now," Stoskopf continued.
He said they have changed their service the last few years with different options, but they cannot meet the needs with copper.
Commissioner Peggy Palmer asked if the reason for doing this was speed.
Stoskopf said it was for access to data. The north shop could not e-mail photos with the current system because there is not enough band width.
They are currently using a T-1 phone line, which he said was the equivalent of running a soaker hose to a fire hose.
Page 2 of 4 - Palmer asked if they couldn't just use Cox or another company.
Stoskopf said Cox did give them a proposal, but they would not service the north shop, jail, western office or the Augusta airport.
One added cost was the tower at the south shop, which this company did not believe was stable enough to climb, although the county staff thinks there my be a way around that. The cost presented to the commission did include a new tower at the south shop. Without that it could be about $20,000 less.
The proposal looked five years down the road and Myers asked if they could look a little farther.
Stoskopf said they already spend $18,276 a year on refreshing the system.
Currently, the county shares a 43 megabit Internet system.
Myers said, "It is just my impression but 10 months ago or so this all seemed fairly straight forward. The picture seemed to me to be kind of clear at that time. Now it's gotten muddier than it was. I don't know what's going to happen after five years; the savings seems to have evaporated."
Stoskopf said the increase in the cost of equipment used up any savings they had anticipated.
"We've continually added things and muddied the water for them," said Commissioner Dan Woydziak.
County Administrator Will Johnson also said they were now with a completely different vendor because the one they were using is non-existent.
Public Works Director Darryl Lutz also addressed the need.
"We're just bogged down," he said. "We can't do what we need to do to get access to any data or Internet speed on the county system. Also, we have data transfer and field systems and everything was just bogged down. We looked at options of Cox, improving our phone line and through these discussions we found the best way to maintain control of what we have and to get the best speed and reliability was to get the microwave system. At least if we're in control of it, we can fix radios and things and we're not waiting on some outside vendor to fix a switch. We've got things we're holding off right now like the fuel system until we get good reliable data. I urge the county commission to move forward with this."
Palmer still had questions on the budget because this was such a big expenditure.
"How is this going to affect our cash reserves, which we used a lot of those to keep the mill levy low?" she asked. "We also have the cost of insurance and we don't know what is going to happen. There is a bill out there regarding mortgage registrations that may take the bottom out of our budgets. Spending this kind of money right now is not comfortable to me until we see what the future is going to bring."
Page 3 of 4 - But Johnson said there are unknowns every year.
"We can't keep putting off infrastructure," he said. "We have to go forward with what we need to operate. It is costing us about the same to do this project as to purchase data service from a third party provider, but you are not saving money like you were (last year)."
Palmer still believed if they did not spend this money it would leave a cushion for next year's budget, but Johnson said they would use it up over the next five years because of fixed costs for the data service they have no is not sufficient.
While the commission had been looking at numbers for five years, Stoskopf said the system will last longer than five years, and they could really divide the cost savings out over seven to eight years.
"With the implementation of this microwave technology, do we foresee is there some vista out there? We absorbed those initial costs, are the radio costs down they road going to continue to be?"
Stoskopf said the cost of technology doesn't go up or down as technology improves. He said they would be spending the same amount but for better data. The cost of buying towers and climbing towers will go away, although there will still be some cost with the towers.
"There is no magic deal in the future that says if we wait three years we are going to get cheaper Internet at those locations," he said. "We provide the Internet to them."
Palmer asked what they did at the south shop where they needed faster Internet service.
Stoskopf said they look at financial records, road and bridge plans and parts books.
Palmer still was concerned, saying, "That's a lot of money to spend and I'm a little worried about the future. I don't want to have increased taxes in the future. I think new technologies are coming. I am not just comfortable at this time."
Woydziak and Commissioner Jeff Masterson wanted to check with Aging to see if they did need a faster connection because if not, that could be a savings of $18,000.
Myers and Commissioner Mike Wheeler, along with Woydziak and Masterson gave their consent they were ready to move forward.
In connection with that, the commission moved into a work session where they received an update on the college radio tower project from Jeff Armantrout, Strategic Communications director.
While this project has slowed down the momentum some, it also has saved the county money. They have saved approximately $100,000.
Also along the lines of technology, the commission approved allowing the Technology Committee and affected departments to start the research and bid request process for a PC-based law, jail and attorney solution. They are wanting to phase out the AS 400 so they don't have to keep running two systems. Staff hopes it will be about $120,000 to $150,000 but they won't know until they start seeing what is out there.
Page 4 of 4 - It is possible one of the solutions would incorporate an evidence tracking system. Staff will begin looking at software alternatives for the AS 400.
In other business, the board approved an addendum to the Commerce Bank contract for purchasing card services through fiscal year 2016.
After the county sent out requests for proposals for purchasing cards, they received responses from Commerce and Intrust banks. After interviews, they recommended going with Commerce Bank again.
The issue brought up a concern Palmer had voiced before about the number of county employees who have purchasing cards. She wanted to see a policy on who gets them.
The county has not had any issues with the cards and have two to three levels of oversight on spending.
More than half of the county's 400 employees have a purchase card.
The commission also set a public hearing on Dec. 31 to consider budget amendments for Fire Districts 1, 5 and 7 and for the self-insurance fund.
One other item approved was to purchase a Liebert APS UPS from ISG Technology. This will be a battery backup system for all of the equipment in the server room. Currently they have smaller units for which they are always having to replace batteries at the cost of $100 each. The maintenance agreement with this new company would be $1,000 and includes all of the batteries and repairs.
Julie Clements can be reached at email@example.com.