Sampson County is taking paper out of its agenda.
A year in the making, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners on Monday were equipped with laptop computers in the county’s first electronic meeting. The board, first presented with the cost-saving idea in February 2012, were trained on the computers last month, a year later. The move was made official with the paperless regular meeting this week.
Information Technology director Chris Rayner said the move toward paperless meeting agendas were part of a larger endeavor to train county personnel to utilize technology that could aid in operations.
“We’re trying to help our employees be a little bit more efficient in some of the things they do. They need to be able to use some of the common core functions and programs — Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word and some other things — that we have better than what they can now,” said Rayner. “We have found that some people have been in positions for a fair amount of years and have some problems with some of the newer software.”
Rayner has an interactive intelligent board that allows that training to be provided at the IT training center, housed in the previous Veterans and Board of Elections office. The new Tax Office software will be the subject of one of the first training sessions, with a handful of people from that department receiving training provided as part of the tax software purchase.
“They’ll be able to see what is going on,” said Rayner, noting the prior use of a projector that was limiting in its use as a learning tool. “Now we’ve got an interactive board.”
He said the IT department has made good use of the space at the building, and the ultimate aim is to offer a wide gamut of training as it is needed.
“My goal is to train between 10 and 15 people at any given time,” Rayner said.
Some of that kind of training, complete with use of the interactive board, was provided to commissioners during their planning session just a few weeks ago.
“We talked about trying to cut back on paper use, and gas,” said Rayner. “Since we met last year, we purchased the laptops. We’ve had them a while and not decided to bring them out until now.”
Last year, assistant manager Susan Holder outlined the kind of cost savings that could be had with purchasing small laptops and eliminating the staff time and resources it takes to produce meeting agendas.
Citing a “conservative estimate” of 175 pages per agenda, and 22 copies of it to be distributed to press, commissioners, county staff and others, that totaled approximately 3,850 total pages. At a cost of 10 cents a page, that is $385 just to get the copies printed. Four hours of staff time it takes to do the copying is another $61.48. Then there is the 86 miles of driving, at 56 cents a mile, to deliver the agendas to each commissioner and the county attorney, a cost of $47.86. That brings the total approximate cost to produce a month’s agenda to $494.34, making the annual cost nearly $6,000.
That cost is going by the wayside, with travels around the county to commissioners eliminated.
As he trained the board last month, Rayner told commissioners they should not be apprehensive of using the new laptops.
“Once you’re able to turn it on and get to where you’re going, it’s just reading,” said Rayner. “Our goal is to be a little more efficient in the way we do county business. It goes back to our saying, ‘let’s do more with less.’ We were able to spend less money on purchasing these pieces of equipment, now let’s use the technology that is out there.”
Board chairman Billy Lockamy said changes in technology often means the purchase of newer pieces of equipment, even while paper serves as a constant. Lockamy said he has experienced in his own insurance office how the use of computers did not necessarily mean paper was done away with completely.
“For the most part, you’re going to be looking at something that would have been on paper, an agenda, possibly an email,” said Rayner. “Your laptops should finish up everybody’s term on the board right now. I know technology changes, but what we’re talking about is reading documents. That doesn’t take a lot of memory and it doesn’t reserve a lot of space on those machines.”
And the savings are there, Holder said.
“Last year, we figured even with the purchase of your laptops, we hoped to have saved in our budget $5,000 just by going to an electronic version of your agenda,” she remarked.
Rayner showed commissioners how the county’s “drop box” account would work and agendas could essentially be electronically delivered by county staff at the same time to everybody, not just accessible by computer, but tablets and smartphones.
“We have the capability at this point to bring the information to you whenever you need it, or whenever you don’t need it to be honest,” Rayner said. “We’re just trying to make sure that we’re able to get the information to you in a timely manner using less resources than what we used before — that being manhours, gasoline, printer, ink, toner and paper.”
Holder noted that, with the exception of personnel files sent for review, everything on the computer is public record. The capabilities were there for many uses, and Rayner said he felt the commissioners would build confidence as they went along.
“It takes a little time to get used to. You get used to having things in your hand,” he said. “I think what will happen is you’ll get used to it. It’ll have to grow on you. It’s like everything else you do: it takes practice. You’re going to get at least once a month practice, because we’ll send out the agendas each month, as usual.”
And Rayner, Holder and others would be there to help out should there be any problems during the transition.
“I think this will be very helpful,” said Rayner. “This won’t be a system where you don’t get any support.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.