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Hagerstown City Council to consider advantages of going paperless

July 19, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • A laptop, iPad and a flash drive are shown. The City of Hagerstown is considering using technology to go paperless.
Photo illustration by Colleen Helf/Staff Photographer,

HAGERSTOWN -- iPads, laptops or flash drives could delete the bulk of paper from Hagerstown City Council operations if some council members have their way.

City Council is considering going paperless as a way of cutting its annual operating expenses and going greener, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

Other city operations are not considering a completely paperless system at this time, said City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, who noted that many city documents are already digital.

Paper, laptops and even iPads could come up when the council debates going paperless during Tuesday's work session, Bruchey said.

"I've been a proponent of this for some time," Bruchey said. "I look at it this way, we get the packet the week before our regular session that has the consent agenda in it. Then we get the same packet a week later. It's the redundancy that is wasteful."

"If we can save dollars on paper by using technology, it does not make sense to do what we have been doing," said Councilman Forrest Easton. "If there is an improvement then we should go that route."

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Most of the paper circulating in City Hall are documents printed for the council members, said Councilwoman Ashley Haywood.

"The crazy thing about this job is that I do not walk away from my mailbox without 5 pounds of paper," she said. "Most of it is not necessary."

Easton said he believes that the city spends more each year on paper, ink and time than it would cost to buy laptops or iPads.

Hagerstown spends an estimated $35,000 on materials and labor to print documents for the council, Zimmerman said.

Some of that would be recouped by going paperless but not all, he said.

"For instance, we would not eliminate the city clerk because of this (going paperless)," he said.

City Clerk Donna Spickler handles printing for the council through her office, he said.

A paperless system, however, would allow Spickler to spend the time she spends making copies on duties other than printing, Zimmerman said.

A mix of paperless solutions have been suggested by council members.

"I think iPads could be the way to go," said Councilman Lewis C. Metzner.

Metzner said he was inspired by news of other U.S. cities turning to Apple's iPad to conduct business.

Size, battery life and features of the iPad make it more appealing than a laptop, he said.

Users can browse the Web, read and send e-mail, and view files, photos and more using the iPad's multitouch interface, according to a June news release from Apple.

Apple said the average battery life is about 10 hours for an iPad.

Haywood said she researched iPads after Metzner suggested it.

"I think the iPad is a brilliant idea," she said. "But I'm flexible with what we use."

Bruchey said laptops would be his choice because they are a more familiar technology.

Easton, who also said he is flexible, said if initial investment is a concern, he would be happy with flash drives.

Flash drives, which are small portable hard drives, could solve the paper problem with very little investment, he said. Council members could use their own computers to view information saved on the drive, Easton noted.

According to Apple's Web site, the price of iPads starts at $499. Easton said he felt PC laptops could be purchased for the same price, or perhaps less.

Flash drives sell for about $20, he said.

Going paperless for their own purposes appears to be an initiative the entire council stands behind, Bruchey said.

Haywood said she would like to see all city operations go paperless and suggested the council needs to lead by example.

However, those who need hard copies, including residents, would still have access to them, Zimmerman said.

The city has no intention of implementing a program that would force someone so far out of their comfort zone it would be inefficient for city operations, Easton said.

"Whatever you are comfortable with you should be able to use," he said. "If someone really wants something that they can write on, I'm not going to force them to do without it."

Regardless of what technology replaces paper, Haywood said the city could realize significant savings by switching to electronic council documents.

"Every green practice this city has done has saved it money," Haywood said. She mentioned projects like the LED bulbs in traffic lights. "There is not a green practice we have implemented that cost the city more money."

Going paperless will cost the council money up front, but Metzner said he feels that the money is available.

Funds for paperless technology could come from the council budget, specifically discretionary funds used for training, seminars and out-of-town expenses, he said.

"Going green" is a stronger motivation for Metzner than cost, he said.

"We need to get it better than how we got it," he said of the environment. "What is going into the Gulf of Mexico should wake Americans up to the fact that we are going to lose precious resources if we don't make changes."

Tuesday will not be the first time City Council has discussed a paperless system.

Past councils have addressed the digital issue, but discussions were stalled by the startup cost, Bruchey said.

Metzner said concerns over the public perception of the council having laptops also deterred past members from supporting the idea.

Zimmerman said the discussion scheduled for Tuesday will mark the first time this council has seriously considered the idea during a work session.

He said the discussion also could include whether other city boards, commissions and authorities also might go paperless.

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