Tuesday, February 20, 2001

City looks into laptop

Lebanon council may go online

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — This Warren County city, best known for its historic buildings and antiques shops, could be one of the first in the state to take its City Council meetings high-tech.

        Council members have asked staff to look into the costs and savings of replacing their packets of proposed legislation and reports with laptop computers for accessing that information via disk or Internet.

        The Ohio Municipal League does not know of any city councils that have converted to laptops, although Worthington — near Columbus — plans to do so by fall.

        “It makes a lot of sense with a council, I think,” said John Mahoney, assistant director of the league. “You read (documents), you vote on them and you never look at them again.”

        In Lebanon, that stacks up to an average of 1,100 pieces of paper per meeting, said City Auditor Greg Dixon. The cost of the paper, copy machine use, and staff time to make and deliver the packets adds up to from $80.50 to $113.50per meeting, he estimated, for total annual costs of $1,932 to $2,724.

        Laptops would cost $2,600 for each of the seven council members, Mr. Dixon said. That means it would take seven or more years for them to pay for themselves — by which time they could be outdated.

        However, Councilman James Reinhard, a leading proponent of the idea, said the new generation of laptops can be upgraded.

        “Even through we've got the telecommunications system, the rest of the city is pretty much behind the times,” Mr. Reinhard said.

        It may be the whole state that's behind the times. More than two-thirds of the states, including Indiana and Kentucky, supply their lawmakers with laptops. Ohio does not.

        Meanwhile, business is moving beyond laptops to hand-held computers like the Palm Pilot, said Mike Horvath, Worthington's information technology manager.

        One stumbling block to governments' efforts to modernize: council members who are not versed in the new technology.

        Take Lebanon Mayor James Mills, an Ohio Department of Transportation retiree who does not have a home computer.

        “They can put mine on paper,” he said.

        Another stumbling block: the startup costs. Laptops could add up to $18,000 or more for Lebanon.


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