Council Fails To Pass Bond For 911 System, Computers

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Dispatcher Sue DeWitt and Police Chief Doug Huber with Verona's current 911 system.
Dispatcher Sue DeWitt and Police Chief Doug Huber with Verona’s current 911 system.

A $565,000 bond ordinance that would have financed a new 911 emergency call system and computers for town employees failed to get the four votes needed for approval at last night’s Town Council meeting.

Mayor Bob Manley and Council member Frank Sapienza, who had expressed reservations about the bond at its introduction in August, both voted for the measure, as did Council member Jay Sniatkowski, who had been a proponent from the beginning. Council members Kevin Ryan and Michael Nochimson acknowledged the need for a new 911 system, but rejected Town Manager Joe Martin’s effort to package that purchase with new computers and voted against.

Sniatkowski, Manley and Martin tried hard at the meeting to convince Ryan and Nochimson to vote for the bond. “It will cost taxpayers less than a dollar a month,” said Sniatkowski. He said that the $262,500 spending for computer hardware and software that was bundled into the bond along with the $250,000 for the 911 system couldn’t be put it into the operating budget because it would push Verona over the state’s 2% cap on budget increases. “If we put it into the operating budget it would have a more devastating impact,” he asserted, because of the cuts that would be needed to keep spending within limits.

Martin and Manley raised the possibility that Verona could use its new 911 system to handle emergency calls for other towns in the western part of Essex County and defray some of its costs. (Dispatch is a joint service in many parts of the country; the Star Ledger reported last week that Somerset County, which already handles 911 dispatch for most of its towns, will be taking over calls for Bridgewater too.) “It’s flexible and expandable,” Manley said of the system. Verona has not yet solicited bids for the system, but it appears to be considering a system from Cassidian Communications, a company that counts Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia among its customers.

In a terse exchange, Sniatkowski faulted Nochimson for not meeting with Emergency Director Jeff Hayes to get the specifics of the spending plan, as the other four Council members had done. Nochimson implied that he had gotten information on technology spending from other sources. “I don’t have anything compelling to convince me to bond for computers,” he said.

Hayes has told the Council that Verona needs new computers because its current ones operate on Windows XP and Microsoft will stop supporting the software in April 2014. Hayes said in August that the new machines would cost about $1,100 each for the computer and its software license. He asserted that buying the 50 computers all at once would save on set-up and installation time. The Board of Education, by contrast, replaces a portion of its computers every year as its operating budget allows and buys refurbished computers, which cost roughly $200 each.

Prior to the vote, Martin had told the Council that if the bond were defeated, Hayes and Dee Trimmer (Verona’s finance chief) would have to go back to the drawing board. “At the end of the day,” he said, “I am confident that we will have a strong 911 platform.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

1 COMMENT

  1. The Town Manager knew in advance he did not have the four votes to pass the ordinance as written. I made it known that I would have supported a clean 911 replacement ordinance without the additional items. The proponents wanted the entire package. All this accomplished was a delay of at least two weeks to get the funding for the 911 upgrade. The tax levy for 2013 was 14.8million. We appropriated almost 2.67 million for municipal debt service. This was an increase of $86,000 (rounded) over what was paid in 2012. Almost 12% of our entire budget of 22.6 million is debt service.

    I am not opposed to bonding for big ticket items that directly relate to infrastructure such as road and street repairs or upgrades to water and waste treatment plants. I have voted for them in the past. Incurring debt is a serious matter and needs to meet a very high standard as evidenced by the need of a super majority to approve a bond ordinance. I did not want to incur debt for items in the IT proposal that should be ongoing technology expenses in my opinion. The fact that the items met, what I consider a minimum level to qualify for bonding, was not enough to gain my support.

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