In a split vote, the Saratoga Springs City Council decided against moving up plans to upgrade the city’s aging telecommunications system at a Tuesday, Oct. 14, meeting, despite assertions it would lead to overall cost savings.
Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, who worked on a committee to come up with an upgrade plan, explained the situation to the council.
In essence, Tuesday’s proposal was to add $88,000 to the 2008 budget in order to take advantage of certain discounts with Carousel Industries, the company selected to provide the upgrades. By doing the work all at once, more city buildings could be included in the upgrade, as well.
According to Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins, the additional money would have come out of the city’s debt service.
The city’s phone system dates back to 1992, and is not upgradable. The upgrade will replace old copper wiring with new high-speed lines and buy new software and hardware with the latest communication advancements like visual voicemail and department mailboxes. According to city officials, antiquated voicemail and a maze of outside lines is a hindrance to many city employees.
The 2008 budget calls for $170,000 for the telecommunications upgrade, and the 2009 capital projects budget contains a $150,000 item. The change would have brought this year’s project costs to $258,000, but eliminated the item from next year’s expenses. Sutton said annual savings under a completely new system would total $37,500.
We’re making sure we save the most money, said Sutton. `We could have spent more money back then [on the 1992 system], and now we’re faced with a complete change because of that.`
As a vote neared, it became apparent that the council was divided on the issue. Using the phrase `Given the current economic climate,` emphatically and often, the impact of an $88,000 addition to the nearly $38 million budget was discussed hotly and at length.
In the end, Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco and Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim voted against the amendment, leaving the vote split. Both said the money could be better spent elsewhere, especially considering that the city will be facing job cuts in the coming year.
`In the long run, is it going to be a savings when there’s nobody on the other end to answer the phones,` asked Scirocco. `There are three positions in my department that have been cut that sit in front of these phones.`
Kim said fixing public safety communications should be priority No. 1.
`There’s a difference between what’s essential and what’s nice. This $88,000 is what’s nice,` he said.
Mayor Scott Johnson said the initiatives are apples and oranges.
`Defeating this today is not going to get your police station a new phone system tomorrow,` he said. `We’re trying to provide a solution for the entire city, not do it piecemeal.`
A number of residents took advantage of another in a series of public hearings on a proposed indoor recreation center to be built on the site of the Southside Recreation fields. Though opinions were divided among the speakers, several suggested the new public safety building be rolled into the recreation center project to save costs. Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim dismissed the idea as impractical.
`Many of the people we arrest have certain conditions,` said Kim, saying that sex offenders, for instance, would not be able to come to court because they would also be near a playground. `It’s very attractive to save money, but operationally I don’t believe this would be the proper way to deal with it,` he said.
In a separate interview, Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins noted that the project already has significant fiscal momentum. It has already been bonded and $423,000 has been spent in interest with another nearly $400,000 in studies and planning already completed. Backing out of investments would cost more money.
`If we said, ‘No, we don’t want to build a rec center,’ and paid this off, we would basically throw away $911,000 of the taxpayer’s money,` said Ivins.“