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Saratoga Springs City Council hangs up over phone system

In a split vote, the Saratoga Springs City Council decided against moving up plans to upgrade the city's aging telecommunications system at a Tuesday, Oct. 14, meeting, despite assertions it would lead to overall cost savings.

Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, who worked on a committee to come up with an upgrade plan, explained the situation to the council.

In essence, Tuesday's proposal was to add $88,000 to the 2008 budget in order to take advantage of certain discounts with Carousel Industries, the company selected to provide the upgrades. By doing the work all at once, more city buildings could be included in the upgrade, as well.

According to Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins, the additional money would have come out of the city's debt service.

The city's phone system dates back to 1992, and is not upgradable. The upgrade will replace old copper wiring with new high-speed lines and buy new software and hardware with the latest communication advancements like visual voicemail and department mailboxes. According to city officials, antiquated voicemail and a maze of outside lines is a hindrance to many city employees.

The 2008 budget calls for $170,000 for the telecommunications upgrade, and the 2009 capital projects budget contains a $150,000 item. The change would have brought this year's project costs to $258,000, but eliminated the item from next year's expenses. Sutton said annual savings under a completely new system would total $37,500.

We're making sure we save the most money, said Sutton. "We could have spent more money back then [on the 1992 system], and now we're faced with a complete change because of that."

As a vote neared, it became apparent that the council was divided on the issue. Using the phrase "Given the current economic climate," emphatically and often, the impact of an $88,000 addition to the nearly $38 million budget was discussed hotly and at length.

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