Going green: Towns embracing technology
By Dawn De Busk
CASCO — Going paperless is the “in” thing.
Not only is it a “green” idea, but — it is practical when it comes to dollars and cents.
Area selectmen — both in Naples and in Casco — have invested in technology that will do away with the stacks of paper typically associated with serving on a municipal board or committee.
In early September, the Casco Board of Selectmen voted to go paperless. This month, board members will pick up digital copies of the information needed to make decisions on the town’s behalf.
“We are spending money to save money,” Casco Board of Selectmen Chairman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes said.
“We have to have six hard copies of practically everything,” she said.
Those expenses add up in terms of staff time and the cost of paper, she said.
According to Fernandes, before coming to a decision on which product to purchase, the selectmen reviewed Dell Ultrabooks, Netbooks, and iPads.
“We are looking at a basic application, just to store data,” she said.
According to a recent vote, the expense was capped at $1,000 per unit, including the licensing. The money to pay for the technological upgrade would come from the town’s Contingency Fund, Fernandes said.
Town Manager Dave Morton added that purchasing the devises will provide a rest for the copy machine, which the town leases and tends to be a high-maintenance, money-demanding item.
“The other issue is the volume of material, the amount of paper we generate. There are problems with storing and handling all those boxes of paperwork,” he said.
“In putting together an electronic packet for the board, it will be easier to make it available to the public,” Morton said.
“The Town of Raymond has been using the E-packet that they publish for each selectmen meeting. All the stuff that the selectmen get, if people have an interest, it is available,” he said.
Anyone who would like to access the paperwork accompanying agenda items will soon be able to find it on the town’s website, which underwent an overhaul this spring.
“The town website will soon include a section on the home page called Hot Topics. Included will be information such as the tar sands oil debate, road construction information, and upcoming events,” Morton said.
In May, retired webmaster Lyman Stuart provided the town’s web page with its face lift.
The Town of Casco allocated $5,200 a year for the service, and spent approximately $200 for the software, Morton said.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback. So, we were looking for additional features to add on. We will continue to develop and expand our website over time. It’s a wonderful, communication tool,” he said.
During many a Naples Board of Selectmen meeting, it has been the joke question: How many trees were killed to support the reams of paperwork?
On Sept. 10, the Naples Board of Selectmen unboxed the new iPad 3 portable computers, and undertook a training session with Woodbrey Consulting representatives, Kevin Woodbrey and his son Erik.
The trend of turning to the latest technology is one that is on the rise at the local level of politics, Kevin Woodbrey said.
“The Raymond Board of Selectmen — they all have their own laptops,” Woodbrey said.
“Applications like cloud conferencing allow the town manager and selectmen to securely share the files between one another,” he said.
“Technically, you would not have to have any paper at all — other than the things they have to sign,” Woodbrey said.
Chairman Bob Caron Sr., said he entered into the computer age “kicking and screaming” when his wife upgraded the software systems they use for their business New England Electric. Now, he cannot imagine life without those computers.
“The most fun thing is using Skype with our grandchildren. It seems like they are in the same room,” he said.
According to Naples Town Manager Derek Goodine, it will be easier to Skype now that the selectmen are all on the same iPad page.
“I have to be out of town during an upcoming meeting in October; and, I hope to Skype into the meeting from my conference. I can add any input during the meeting if needed,” Goodine said.
“I think the board was pretty excited about what these little tablet computers can do. I think as we become more familiar with their operations that it will be pretty neat,” he said.
The iPad 3 will improve “my ability to provide some enhanced working documents and pictures and videos from time to time to help describe projects that are going on,” he said.
According to Goodine, the complete cost for the iPads was $3,815. Each iPad 3 was $485; and the town purchased six for a total of $2,910. In addition, the town bought the keyboards, the hard cases and iPad docks for each computer.
“We also purchased seven copies of Quick Office Pro at a cost of $14.99 apiece. We will most likely be buying a few more programs for the iPads once we get familiar with them as well as a few other accessories if and when needed,” Goodine said.
Selectman Rick Paraschak said one of the handy ways he plans to use his iPad will be to store a list of the town’s ordinances so he can quickly and correctly answer those types of questions from local residents.