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Council To Vote On Tech-Spending Bond
In August, Joe Martin and Jeff Hayes, Verona’s emergency operations director, gave the Town Council a first look at a resolution for a roughly $500,000 bond issue that would fund a wide range of technology needs. Verona is earmarking $250,000 for a new 911 emergency call system, which it would share with Cedar Grove. (Our neighbor to the north has already approved its $250,000 spending.) The new 911 system is needed because Verizon has stopped supporting the old platform, which had been in service for three decades.
Hayes gave few details on the system at the August 12 meeting. But technology in general moves at a much faster pace these days, so it is unlikely that we would get anywhere near 30 years of service from a new system. The other assets that Martin and Hayes have lifespans that could also be shorter than the bond that will finance their purchase: hardware (routers and servers) and software, and new computers for all town employees. New computers are needed, Hayes noted at the meeting, because Verona’s current computers operate on Windows XP and Microsoft will stop supporting the software in April 2014. Hayes said in August that the new machines would cost about $1,100 each for the computer and its software license.
The bond resolution did not sit well with the Council at the August meeting. Council members seemed to feel that they lacked details on the spending plan and were uncomfortable at the mismatch between the bond length and the expected service of the technology. “You are still going to be paying interest on something that has been retired,” said Council member Kevin Ryan. Martin said the bond could have a 10-year term, but Verona’s de facto finance officer, Dee Trimmer, said from her seat at the meeting that the term could be 10 to 13 years.
Deputy Mayor Jay Sniatkowski questioned why the computers had to be replaced all at once, in contrast to the town’s vehicles, which are replaced as needed and paid for from the operating budget. Michael McCormack, a staffer in Hayes’ office who manages the town’s tech systems, said that by doing all the computers at once, he could save a substantial amount of set-up time on each machine.
The town’s approach to tech spending stands in stark contrast to that of the Board of Education, which replaces some of its computers every year as its operating budget allows. The BOE also buys refurbished computers, which cost roughly $200 each. Martin has generally run Verona to have a $2 million surplus in the operating budget at the end of every year, so it would seem that he would have sufficient funds to pay for the computers, and perhaps the other equipment, out of the surplus.
One other big question: How the joint 911 system will be staffed. Martin has said in previous Council meetings that Verona might be able to consolidate overnight dispatch with Cedar Grove because neither town has a large amount of overnight crime. But neither Martin nor Hayes gave details on the system’s operation. Because 911 systems have become so complex, many areas around the country now operate their systems on a regional or county level, instead of town by town. (Sharp minds will remember that a few years back, there was talk of a joint 911 system for towns in the western part of Essex County, but nothing came of that.)
Ironically, the tech spending plan has been stripped of one element that might have made the bond more palatable to Council members: Hayes’ original $1 million plan, presented to the Council in January, would have also included several emergency generators that would be permanently hooked up to natural gas lines. Verona ran into trouble in Hurricane Sandy when its water treatment plant lost power. But the generators were not included in the bond resolution that Hayes presented in August.
The Town Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Council chambers on the second floor of Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.
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