County agendas going paperless

  • Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 7:07 a.m.

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY - County meeting agendas will soon move from paper to the screen, which commissioners say will give the public easier access to information. The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to buy agenda management software from NovuSolutions for $23,700. NovuSolutions estimates that Rowan County could save about $50,000 a year in staff time and materials by going paperless with an online system. The board's regular meetings take place twice a month, and the current agenda process costs roughly $3,080 per meeting, or about $80,080 per year. According to the software provider, its own system would cost the county $29,000 annually. Commissioner Jim Sides said he loves saving money, but to him, that's not the most important thing about the new system. "I think the greatest feature that this software is going to offer is the fact that the same time information is available to us as commissioners, it'll be available to the public," Sides said. "I think that's great for the audience, and it's just another level of transparency on our part. It's a move that I think that we have needed for long time." Earlier this year, the board approved $32,000 in the 2012-13 budget for a paperless agenda management system. David Boling, information systems director, said the county should come in about $300 under budget after the purchase of the software and some additional equipment, including several iPad tablet devices. Commissioners will use the iPads to view meeting materials instead of relying on printed agenda packets. Soon, members of the public will be able to follow along with the entire meeting on their own computers or smartphones, said Vice Chairman Carl Ford. Chairman Chad Mitchell said he hopes the software and staff will be ready by the board's first meeting in January, and Boling said he knows that's when commissioners want it. "I think that often our audience, either here in the room with us or on TV, is at a disadvantage because they're not seeing what we're seeing," Mitchell said. "They can get a packet here if they so choose, but that's cumbersome and potentially expensive." Mitchell added later Monday that if people don't have easy access to that kind of technology, they can still ask for a paper agenda from the county. During Monday's meeting, Boling said the system also benefits commissioners by allowing them to see information as soon as it's available, rather than waiting for staff to assemble a packet. Presenters can upload documents for each agenda item directly into the system. "There's a lot of other boards that are doing paperless agendas, but a lot of them have something they put together themselves," Boling said. "None of these home-grown solutions really address the workflow and people being able to submit documents and items to the agenda." Boling said the county also considered software provided by Laserfiche but chose NovuSolutions based on price, features and expandability. Coltrain asked about whether there will be mechanisms in place to prevent commissioners from using the county-owned iPads for personal purposes. Commissioner Jim Sides said he doesn't see anything wrong with occasional personal use. He answers calls from his wife on the county phone, he said, and he sometimes checks his personal and business email on county-owned computers because he spends a lot of time in the administration building. The county's technology policy allows some personal use of devices if there is no cost to the county, it is conducted on the employee's own time and the technology is not used to operate a personal business. Boling said it will be up to each individual to take responsibility for following that policy. "If it gets to the point where if we lock them down too much," he said, "then the devices can't be used for their intended purposes." Commissioner Jon Barber held up one of the brand new iPads alongside a thick binder with Monday's agenda packet, noting that at least 24 of them are printed per year for each commissioner. "This is where we're going versus where we've been," Barber said. "This is a major advancement for us." Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

In other business
Rowan County Commissioners also:
• Approved a rezoning request from Ellis Cross Country Fire Department after a public hearing.
The deparment requested that its property be rezoned from manufactured home park to rural agricultural. The only mobile home left on the property is unlivable, and the department is condidering either removing it or using it for firefighter training.
• Awarded bids for new dental equipment and renovations to existing Project Smile offices. The low bid for equipment was about $149,000 from Henry Schein, and the low bid for renovations was $113,000 from KMD Construction.
The total cost of the project is $270,000. It will be funded with a Robertson Foundation grant of $50,000, a Cannon Foundation grant of $75,000, and an appropriation of $145,000 from the Rowan County Health Department Medicaid escrow fund.
• Approved board appointments and budget amendments.
• Purchased four vehicles for the sheriff’s office for about $101,000.
• Approved a language access plan to ensure that people who cannot speak or read English have access to all Community Development Block Grant programs or activities, as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Proclaimed Oct. 7-13 as fire prevention week.

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