County may spend more next year on technology
Although the details aren’t known yet, the next Kent County budget may contain more money for technology — if commissioners agree to allocate funding for that use.
“One of the things we’re going to be recommending in the budget is more resources for technology,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio to members of the Executive Committee.
One type of technology those resources may be spent on is iPads or another type of tablet for the 19 commissioners who sit on the board.
Commissioner Michael Wawee made the suggestion in March as a way to reduce communication costs. He said the county could cut that expense by going all electronic and scrapping the practice of mailing agendas to board members.
County Commission Executive Assistant Jamie Groom said it costs from $2.80 to $5 to mail each agenda, depending on how many resolutions are on a particular agenda. She said that expense doesn’t include the cost of the paper.
The Executive Committee surveyed commissioners on their feelings about going electronic; nearly 70 percent said they preferred to receive the board and committee agendas in that manner.
“There wasn’t anybody who said, ‘No, this is a terrible idea,’” said Groom.
Some who said no felt they already received too many items electronically.
“I receive too much information electronically already and it’s easier for me to process the hard-copy information that comes in the mail. I am not confident I would see everything if it is sent electronically,” read one response.
A few others said they liked the paper agendas because they can make notes on the resolutions before them. “If we had tablets to view the paper and make notes with, I would have no problem going totally paperless.”
Groom added that commissioners who said they favored sticking with the current process sounded like they could be convinced to change their minds. “No, I’m not interested. But that may change if I had an iPad,” read a response.
The survey also revealed that 58 percent of commissioners own a laptop, tablet or other mobile device, and 90 percent have wireless access. Sixty percent said they favored having the county buy the device.
Under the current plan, which is subject to change, the county would buy iPads for the commissioners. The devices would be password protected and pretty much dedicated to county communications.
“This wouldn’t be used for fantasy football, just for county business,” said Wawee.
Commissioners would use the devices for as long as they’re in office and would pay for any damages to the tablets. The agenda packets would be available for downloading and printing from a separate site.
“It’s like what The Right Place does,” said Delabbio.
One commissioner wondered whether buying board members tablets and setting up a separate online site for them to access would actually save the county money.
“I’m a tech person. I’ve done this for 15 years,” said Commissioner Jim Talen. “I don’t see how this saves us money. We need to have a cost comparison done.”
County Commission Chairman Dan Koorndyk agreed. “At this point, what we’re going to do is a cost study.”
The issue surfaced as a topic when Delabbio brought a small group together to find out where the county excels and where it needs to make improvements. Technology was cited as an area where upgrades are needed. Further discussion led to the thought that maybe the county could cut its communications cost by moving the board closer to a paperless situation.
County IT Director Craig Paull graded Kent’s current state of technology as a C. He added that the county can get everything done it needs to with its existing set-up, but he also said keeping pace with constantly changing consumer technology is a challenge for such a large entity, which has a host of regulations it must follow.
Paull explained that even though the Gerald R. Ford Airport has gone wireless, the service is only for the flying public. He said a county wireless system, on the other hand, would have to serve the general public and its employees, so a digital firewall would have to be built to separate public and staff access and that would make the county’s system more expensive.
However, Delabbio said county budgets have improved over the past several years and he thought more revenue could go toward newer technology.