Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County IT Department wins Council support for new website, server administrator

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The newly revamped Porter County Website, which can alert residents of road closures, tax information, board meetings and available job postings within the County departments, is a hit with the public.

Despite its popularity, a few members of the County Council were hesitant Tuesday to throw their support behind a $75,597 bill for the upgrades paid to site developer CivicPlus with a transfer from the County’s cable franchise fund.

The Council did approve the measure with a unanimous 5-0 vote after County IT Director Sharon Lippens said the site will make it easier for residents to access government. She added that having a “plethora” of tools and information available online will cut down on long lines at the County Administration Building and make it more accommodating for those without a computer.

“It’s our way of interacting with the public in a way that’s more convenient,” Lippens said.

But Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, expressed irritation that the fact that the contract with CivicPlus had already been approved by the County Commissioners nearly a year ago without approaching the Council about appropriating the funding first, although he would agree that the County needs to keep up with technology.

“I think it’s a wonderful project but we cannot be spending money like this right now,” he said.

Biggs has openly criticized spending by the Commissioners while the Council has the job of coming up with funding solutions for operations like County E-911 and the jail overcrowding while incoming tax revenues are dwindling in the County’s general fund due to tax caps. The continual maintenance cost for CivicPlus will be about $12,000 a year.

“Where does it end? I just can’t explain the logic,” Biggs said.

County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said the work for the website was to be paid for with funds from county economic development income tax dollars but CEDIT projects had been shifted around by the Council earlier this year.

Biggs said he would have liked to have seen the website upgrades done in-house but Lippens said it would have cost the County more to buy the software and to do the labor in-house.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, said she was “not so comfortable” with how the new site could be a burden on the departments. Lippens said that department heads had the option of maintaining their own webpages, or could leave it to the IT Department if they were not comfortable with the work, but “all departments are represented” on the site.

A few departments such as the County Assessor have their own websites. The County Parks, Memorial Opera House, the Museum of History, and the Expo Center have been running on a server operated by the tourism bureau and some have expressed interest in returning to the County’s own server, Lippens said. If those departments are added on, it would not increase the cost of the contract with CivicPlus, she said.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said he would like to see all departments on the main server.

In a related matter, the Council approved a new server administrator in the IT Department after Lippens had made the request at least three times previously, saying the workload has built up now that more departments such as the Expo Center and the Opera House, which had been maintained by their former director Brian Schafer, are requesting aid from her and her staff.

Lippens said issues with computer viruses are becoming more common and they are cutting into the time available for projects such as the transition underway to move the County Courts onto the state’s Odyssey case management system.

Lippens said that the department had eliminated two full time positions in 2008 which has netted a savings of about $227,000 since but hiring a new administrator is now needed because the technology has changed so much since and a lot of her work is now “interlaced” with the other departments who operate primarily by computer.

“If they don’t have a computer, they can’t do their jobs,” said Lippens.

Biggs said that there are county departments that can be more “lean” but the IT department is not one of them if they are to continue improving county services. Graham added that “times have changed and we must move on.”

The Council approved the position with a 5-0 vote.

Because the request had been stalled, Lippens said she needed only $20,000 to cover the salary for the rest of the year, instead of the original $39,000 request.

Lippens reminded the Council that the salary could be reimbursed up to 50 percent from the state due to the position’s involvement with servicing the County’s IV-D court.

In other business, the Council approved funding for a full time secretary in the County’s Drug Court, with about $16,000 in salaries from a federal grant received and another $14,883 in salaries from the family court donation fund that would be good for two years. The vote was 4-1 with Graham dissenting.

Absent from the meeting were Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Dan Whitten, D-At Large

Fall budget hearings

Lastly, Poparad set tentative dates for the Council’s annual budget work.

A first reading will kick things off on Wednesday, Sept. 11, with a non-binding review of the municipal budgets. Dates for second readings include Sept. 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, with final review and approval aimed for Oct. 2. All meetings will start at 5 p.m., Poparad said.

 

Posted 7/24/2013