Public high tech comes at a price

Computers, high speed Internet and cell phones makes exchanging information easier than ever. But keeping everything modernized does not come cheap for Island County or the city of Langley.

Island County departments spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for long-distance and toll free calling service, new desktop and laptop computers, high speed Internet service, updating software and cell phone service.

Major costs for the county includes maintaining a four-year replacement cycle for the approximately 400 computers the county uses, and updating software.

Because of budgetary limitations, the county only replaces equipment in most need of replacing or to ensure everyone can communicate with each other, said Cathy Caryl, head of the county’s central services.

To ensure the county pays the lowest cost possible, the county and city of Langley often buy through the state, either for a state service or to purchase a brand name product at a reduced price. The county also requests bids from three separate businesses and chooses the lowest bidder for some items.

She said the county saves money through swapping components and utilizing Central Services for maintenance needs. Even with the cost saving measures, though, the county paid more than $300,000 last year to modernize its computers and software.

New computers, keyboards, central processing units and monitors cost $172,000, $126,000 went to new software and $35,000 for annual maintenance contracts for several proprietary computer systems.

Though budgetary concerns limit what Island County spends, the county is still in much better shape than cash-strapped Langley. Rick Hill, Langley’s director of public works, said the city bought one new Dell computer through a state contract on its bare bones budget this year. In addition, he said the city leases the printer and city staff handles most of the maintenance.

Despite their financial limitations, Caryl and Hill said the county and city of Langley try to buy locally as much as possible.

Both the county and city use Whidbey Telecom for some phone and Internet services. The county pays approximately $6,200 a year for high-speed Internet service. The county also pays the state Department of Information Services 7 cents a minute for long distance phone service and $600 a month for high speed Internet. The county also receives a 10 percent government discount through Nextel, its primary cell phone service provider.

The city of Langley pays about $900 a year for the city’s Web site and high speed Internet.

The county includes Puget Sound Business Systems Inc. in the printer bidding process and Oak Harbor’s Pioneer Internet provides high speed Internet access for several county offices, including the Oak Harbor Health Department. Hill also said Langley buy Nextel cell phone service for public works employees through Clinton’s Lincoln Computers.

Finding a supplier on Whidbey Island, especially for computers, is often not easy. Island County’s Caryl said in that her experience, most Whidbey Island computer businesses stay in operation for no more than a year or two,

So, the county usually turns to the state for equipment at a discounted rate. Buying Microsoft Pro Suite software for $310 each and fully equipped and configured laptop Dell Computers for $3,000 each through the state saves the county thousands a year, Caryl said.

Calling it a win-win, Caryl said the state contracts save the county money and helps business at the same time.

“It is guaranteed business from all the government entities in the state,” she said.

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