Taxpayers could see huge savings if governments would consolidate and update their information technology departments, and a group of leaders gathered Thursday at the John S. Knight Center in Akron to hear details about how to do it.
The EfficientGovNetwork Regional Collaboration Conference brought together more than 100 area governmental leaders to talk about their experiences making government more efficient. Portage County and Tallmadge took the lead in information technology.
Tallmadge Mayor David Kline talked about how studying data lines in the city revealed an unused line was costing the city $500 a month. More important, an upgrade to more efficient equipment created a $39,500 savings on the city’s $139,000 telecommunications bill.
Dean Tondiglia, assistant chief for Kent State University’s police department, found consolidating record-keeping systems for the school and the city not only led to some reduced staffing but also allowed police officers to remain in the field longer because they could write reports on computers in their cars.
Since then, Aurora and Brimfield have joined the system without stressing its capacity. While dispatchers and officers formerly used paper and pencil to keep records, requiring that it be transcribed into court records, now an officer can type the information into an electronic file that can be passed along to the court.
The result is different departments can double-check names and spot problems early.
“In Portage County you don’t want to go for a marriage license if you have an arrest warrant in municipal or common pleas court because you are going to go to jail before going to the altar under this system,” said Brian Kelley, chief information officer for Portage County.
With budgets tightening and tax revenue down, governments might find information technology systems an area for potential improvement.
“We’ve gone through furloughing, we’ve gone through budget cuts,” said Kelley. “We’ve gone though downsizing and we’re really at the end of the rope as far as what we can do to save costs and improve efficiency, and IT collaboration provides us with this opportunity.”
The conference also was for government leaders who are just getting started. Ed Jerse, Cuyahoga County director of regional collaboration, had some advice for them.
His proposals can be politically complicated, such as getting local governments to agree not to poach businesses from each other. He said it might be best to start small.
“One of the indications of success is having the habit of collaborating,” he said. “Having done it before with somebody makes you comfortable with the idea that you can share a service.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org