Hinchey to request money for upgrades to city equipment

Norwich - With an improved bond rating, shrinking city debt and aging computer, telephone and heating systems throughout city buildings, officials have decided now is the time to go out to bond to address longstanding needs.

Mayor Deberey Hinchey will ask the City Council to support a proposed $800,000 bond - the maximum allowed without going to referendum - to pay for numerous upgrades to hardware and software for city offices.

The council is expected to set a future public hearing date for the proposed bond ordinance at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

The proposal includes technology improvements, including a new telephone system with voiceover Internet capability, computer server improvements, wiring upgrades, centralized heating and ventilation controls, new software for finance and building permits, a large-format scanner/printer, new police cruiser technology and "such additional improvements as may be accomplished within said appropriation."

City Manager Alan Bergren said city officials have been discussing many of the upgrades for a year or longer, and "this is the time."

The city's phone system, which dates back about 20 years, is the top priority, Bergren and Comptroller Josh Pothier said. Some phones no longer can transfer calls, and others don't receive voicemail messages, Bergren said. Because the system is so old, it's difficult to get parts when phones break down.

The phone system also does not identify incoming callers, an important security consideration, officials said.

"It's frustrating to the public when they can't get through," Bergren said of the phones. "We can't connect people at times. Sometimes people leave messages, and we don't get the messages until days later."

Computer software also must be upgraded, because Microsoft soon will no longer service the Windows XP programs.

New controls on the heating and ventilation systems would help the Public Works Department monitor the status of equipment to know when filters need to be changed or when alarms are set off, Public Works Director Barry Ellison said.

Hinchey said it makes sense for the City Council to go out to bond for these upgrades, because they would be expected to last for many years to come. She said putting these items in the capital budget would mean putting off projects such as road work that take up those limited funds.

"It seems to make sense to me," Hinchey said. "It's far better than putting things in the capital budget and take away from road repair and things like that. What I'm hearing is, 'it's a tough budget.' In the four years I've been (on the City Council), so much has not been done because of budget constraints, and in the end it costs you more."

Last spring, the City Council approved a bonding ordinance for $500,000 for computer technology upgrades for the city school system. That upgrade was required, because state standardized tests soon will be taken online, and the school system's old computers couldn't handle the demand.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said she might return to the council later this year to ask for a telephone system upgrade for the school system as well. Those phones also are antiquated and do not have caller identification capability.

c.bessette@theday.com

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