City eyeing costly phone system

First Posted: 3/5/2009

Mount Airys commissioners, who have vowed to delay major expenditures due to tight finances, were told Thursday night they need to replace the citys telephone system at a possible cost of $470,000.
Not doing so could lead to a complete failure of the municipalitys communications infrastructure, according to a consultant who made a presentation to city officials.
Doing nothing is really not an option at this point, said Tom Weimin of ClientFirst Consulting Group. You have to do something.
We do have some issues with the current system, agreed city Finance Director John Overton.
The local governments present communications software and hardware was acquired about 15 years ago, when the city installed its first computer network infrastructure and telephone system, and reportedly is showing its age.
When earlier briefed on the need during a planning retreat in January, the commissioners were told by Overton, This is a continuing concern for us our equipment is considered to be beyond its life expectancy by the manufacturer.
Weimin elaborated on that during a detailed presentation Thursday night, mentioning that the Embarq telephone company couldnt guarantee service any longer due to the systems age. Also, Nortel, the manufacturer that sold the city its equipment, says it no longer can provide support for its products.
To plot a course for dealing with the dilemma, the city of Mount Airy retained the consulting group for an independent study. Overton prefaced Thursday nights presentation by saying that Weimin and his company are not in the business of selling such systems, but providing expertise to help local governments make informed decisions.
The cost of replacing the local system could range from $360,000 to $470,000, according to Thursdays presentation, which would cover the telecommunications, cable and data network facets involved.
While that estimate seemed to raise some eyebrows at Thursdays meeting, Weimin said that the system would save the city about $1,700 per month or $20,400 annually because of improvements in efficiency. When taking into account the first five years of operation for the new system, 25 percent of its cost during that time would be funded by cost reductions for telecom services, according to the consultants analysis.
He also said now might be a good time to buy such a system because bids for goods and services tend to be lower when the economys bad. Were of the opinion now its a buyers market, Weimin said.
The consulting firm is prepared to proceed with requests for proposals from contractors, he added, but there is a question mark as to when and if Mount Airy wants to act. Weimin explained that implementing the new system would be about an eight-month process. So its not a short-term kind of a project, he said.
In response to a question from Commissioner David Beal, Weimin said the city government was risking a complete shutdown of its communications system by not proceeding with an upgrade.
No action was taken on the proposal Thursday night. The board of commissioners simply was briefed on the idea ahead of budget deliberations this spring for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1. Individual commissioners have stated that they do not believe the municipality should take on any other major expenses at this time.
At the planning retreat earlier this winter, they shot down requests for big-ticket items such as a new $800,000 aerial truck for the fire department, hybrid vehicles for city police and replacement of aging water and sewer lines.

Water Contract OKd
In another matter Thursday night, the Mount Airy commissioners unanimously approved a 40-year agreement to sell water to Surry County to serve areas outside the municipality.
The move will enable the city to profit from sales of its water surplus, while also allowing outside areas needing water to be served.
I strongly advocating selling water to the county, Commissioner Deborah Cochran said before the unanimous vote. I know theres a great need in the county, she added, based on contacts with business owners there as well as Surry officials.
The agreement calls for the city to sell water to Surry on a bulk basis using master meters to distribute supplies to various water districts created in the county.
Municipal officials will market the water at a price that represents 90 percent of what in-town customers are charged, due to the high-volume sales that will be involved.
Mount Airy had approved an agreement last year to sell water to the town of Dobson.

Rezoning Approved
In other action, the board voted to rezone an eight-area site at 1493 W. Pine St. near Mount Airy Tractor Co. to accommodate plans for an auto auction that eventually could hire up to 60 people.
The development of that project required the land to be rezoned from its present residential classification to the B-4 (highway business) designation, which the commissioners did Thursday night.
Cochran said the auto auction should boost the local economy in general while giving area car dealers a handy outlet for selling a variety of vehicles. She said that the dealer seeking to establish the business has told her that it could create 20 jobs initially and 60 later.
I feel like we want entrepreneurs to know we do want their presence in Mount Airy, Cochran said of the citys position on the rezoning request.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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