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Commissioners table tech deals

September 21, 2011

Elk County Commissioner Ronald T. Beimel, center, reads from his notes alongside fellow commissioners June H. Sorg, left, and Daniel R. Freeburg. Photo by Joseph Bell.

Elk County commissioners tabled tentative agreements on Tuesday with the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission for technical support.
The agreements were $6,150 for 12 months for the county and a pact for $18,450 for 12 months for the county's 911 facility.
"With the technology that we use, there can be a lot of complicated aspects with network switches, wireless transmission between here and North Central for our internet service, communications between the building and service, things like that," said Jim Abbey, director of the county's IT/GIS department. "To service us, you're probably talking somewhere in the range of $150 an hour.
"It's just like going to a doctor-- if you have a cold you go to your family doctor-- if you need brain surgery you go to a brain surgeon-- it's all about that specialty, that expertise that can be provided and North Central, through their IT department, has the expertise needed to service us. This will help us, in the long run, maintain what we currently have."
However, Elk County Commissioner Daniel R. Freeburg suggested handling the contract on a case-by-case basis, rather than paying a lump sum for an entire year.
"Rather than pay a lump sum, could it be up to that amount, as needed?" Freeburg said. "Maybe we wouldn't need both of those amounts, on both of these contracts."
Abbey indicated it was possible but varying issues could deter North Central officials from altering the technical support agreements.
"We could try to arrange something like that but my fear would be based on the lump sum numbers-- and I've checked with other county governments on this-- if someone is trained in a certain area, you need ongoing training since the products change all the time," Abbey said. "It's an ongoing cost and the possibility is, what if something happens and the hours go above and beyond?
"Over the past year, the needs have varied but we've needed assistance at least weekly and sometimes they're here half a day, or an entire day."
Just last month, county officials uncovered a computer issue that took at least two days of work to resolve.
"One of the hard parts is that not every network is the same-- they're all set up differently-- but if you have someone familiar with what your setup is, then they can get to resolve the problem quicker," Abbey said. "If you pay someone else to come in, they'd have to spend more time learning your setup and in the long run, that is going to cost more money."
The county's 911 facility seems to be in a similar scenario, as Freeburg hoped officials could suggest a case-by-case basis for that contract as well.
For Elk County Emergency Management Director Mike McAllister, the various connections and ongoing aspects make it difficult to settle for case-by-case support in an untimely manner.
"If we're going to do that, we need to see if that's guaranteeing us that someone will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to fix the problem if I have it, or is it going to be a, 'Yes, we'll be able to fix it when we get to it,'" McAllister said. "That would be the question I'd have. In our world, we have so many different connections coming into our facility with the state, the federal government, and all the police departments are tied into our network, they're records management software, everything.
"Our day-to-day networking is managed by us on a regular basis, but when when we get into higher-end routers and switches where we have to connect the courthouse, the state, federal government or police department, or paging emergency services, if we have a failure we don't have that luxury of waiting-- we have high pressure and need to make sure we have people available to fix and coordinate the issues."

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