After this week’s city council work session, some Ottumwans weren’t happy to hear how city dollars could be spent on new technology.
The council and Mayor Frank Flanders discussed purchasing laptops or tablets for themselves and upgrading the city’s website, though some residents have expressed frustrations over the thousands of dollars needed, saying the money could be used for other projects or that the councilmen should pay for laptops or tablets out of their own pockets.
“People need to be positive about Ottumwa,” said Councilman J.R. Richards. “The same people that complain about the website and the computers to save money are the same that say, ‘Why isn’t there something going on in this town?’ It’s the same people. It’s an oxymoron.”
If all five council members and the mayor choose tablets or laptops, the bill would be approximately $3,000. An upgrade to the city’s website would cost around $30,000, with a $5,000 annual bill on top of that, if the city goes with CivicPlus, who gave a presentation at the work session.
“When I first got elected, in the time between the election and taking office I looked at a lot of websites,” Flanders said. “Ours did not compare favorably, and a website is an invaluable tool to economic development.
“If anyone wants to point a finger at the primary provider of impetus on this issue, they can point it right at me.”
Councilman Bob Meyers said he initially thought the councilmen would pick up the tablet with their council information on Friday night, study it over the weekend and bring it back to the Monday or Tuesday meeting.
“It seemed like then all of a sudden we were moving into iPads and laptops Monday night,” Meyers said.
His concern lies in each individual councilman’s needs, such as his need to have larger print due to his eyesight.
“What I got out of it was that obviously it was brought up at a work session for discussion and it seemed obvious that it needs to go back to another work session as we work through individual needs so it works for everybody,” Meyers said.
And that’s the point of a work session, he added, to discuss an issue or two without a need to vote or make a final decision that night.
Richards said before the council makes any decision, he would like each to have a chance to try out a tablet or laptop to see what works best.
While Richards liked the idea of laptops or tablets in order to save printing costs, he said the website is an absolute necessity.
“But if there’s somebody local that can do this same thing, that would be my very first and greatest desire, to spend that money locally,” Richards said, since CivicPlus is based out of Manhattan, Kan. “I feel somebody right here, from Ottumwa, who knew the town, would be better at putting the flavor of this community, its essence, on the website.”
Meyers said the council needs to continue studying the cost of both items before coming to a decision.
“We need to come back to another session to look at the figures,” Meyers said. “Surely they weren’t expecting an answer ... that we could formulate a decision based on what we heard Monday night.”
Flanders said not only would the cost of the laptops be paid for in a year and a half — since printing council information costs around $2,600 per year — that could then be phased to other city departments over time.