Following last year’s contentious election for supervisor, incumbent Sean Walter — after eking out a victory over Councilwoman Jodi Giglio — extended what seemed at the time was an olive branch by including $80,000 Ms. Giglio had requested for a new computer system and increased code enforcement.
Now, whether or not the town will get that computer system, which was meant to streamline the code enforcement and building departments to clamp down on enforcing the town code, remains in question.
Business Administration Systems, a Saratoga County-based company that works with over 700 municipalities across the state, spoke with the Town Board at last week’s work session.
The company had previously been in discussions with Ms. Giglio in 2012 when she first attempted to update software in the building and code enforcement departments. A new program the company has pitched would increase efficiency in the code enforcement department by making building plans readily available to them, with the thought of improving many quality of life issues residents have complained about in recent years. Currently, code enforcers — and anyone else, including assessors and planners — have to walk across Howell Avenue to pull a building file.
But as Mr. Walter said on Thursday morning, it’s much more than the building and code enforcement departments that have outdated systems. Namely, the town’s outdated financial software is what has him most concerned.
“It’s a chicken or an egg thing for me personally,” he said. “We need both [updated]. Whether we replace the mainframe first or do this. We need both. And I don’t know which one comes first.”
BAS currently works with Southold Town, East Hampton, and Oyster Bay on Long Island, said vice president Robert Vitti. He added that if the town desires, it could start with putting a few town departments on BAS software and adding others on as the town gets the financial resources.
Which could end up happening.
“We’re broke,” said Mr. Walter frankly told Mr. Vitti. “So we like to buy things on your dime.”
Ms. Giglio sees the updated software to the town’s code enforcement and building departments as a way for the town to bring in some of that revenue. For example, if a building permit is set to expire on a certain date, employees could receive automatic notifications and easily send homeowners a warning in advance letting them know that their fee could double if it isn’t renewed before it expires. That could get cooperation the town is not currently getting, she said.
“I think it will be a revenue source for the town to where hopefully, we’re able to save money through this technology,” she said.
Senior Building Inspector Brad Hammond said it was “very critical” that the town upgrade its current system at some point.
“The old Windows systems, there’s no security anymore, because it’s outdated. And it’s fragile,” he said.
But the same goes for the town’s outdated COBOL-based mainframe, on which all of its financial data sits. And unfortunately for the town, the BAS system would unlikely be able to integrate with COBOL — which Mr. Walter called an “antiquated system from a bygone era.”
“It is an antiquated system and it’s good to hear you are actually considering moving away from that,” said Mr. Vitta.
BAS offered in 2012 — and agreed to offer again — a price of about $44,000 to put all tax map parcels into its system for both the building and code enforcement departments. That would not include the cost of tablets for employees in the field, though it would include integration on the town’s computers. Each year after the first would require a $6,000 fee.
Mr. Walter suggested a grander proposal, to possibly update both systems at the same time. Instead of just updating its building and code enforcement systems, BAS is going to speak with other department heads and come back to the Town Board with a plan next month which could include integrating several more departments, including assessors and tax receivers.
Mr. Vitti said the company offers payment plans, so instead of only settling for two departments now, the town may end up upgrading several departments sooner than later — but end up paying BAS back over time.
File photo caption: In September 2014, code enforcement officer Richard Downs goes through some of the files stored in metal cabinets inside the department’s office. (Credit: Paul Squire)