For the second consecutive budget season, the city’s finance department is calling to update the city’s public information technology; however, alders remain wary about funneling even more money into IT.
Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed budget for the 2015–16 fiscal year includes funding to employ a Chief Information Officer — a full-time IT director who would work for the Office of Technology. The Office is currently overseen by controller Daryl Jones. According to City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer, if the CIO position is approved, the person hired would be directly in charge of operations with Jones in an advisory position. The CIO’s responsibilities would include implementing citywide software updates and spearheading initiatives to streamline information technology in New Haven. If the position is approved, the CIO — one of 23 proposed new employees in Harp’s budget — will be the highest-paid new city employee with a salary of $101,898 per year.
Jones spoke in support of the proposed CIO position before the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee at a budget workshop last Wednesday. In addition to his responsibilities as controller, Jones said he has been forced to also take on the role of information officer under the current system. Grotheer said Harp proposed the new position to ensure that Jones could focus on the city’s finances. As controller, Jones is currently in charge of all city finances.
Still, East Rock Alder and Finance Committee member Anna Festa said the Finance Committee was skeptical of the new position.
“Our IT really needs to be brought up to 2015, but we need to take a step back and look at the whole system,” Festa said. “Then we can figure out what really is necessary.”
Problems with the city’s software are not new this budget season. Increased funding for information technology was also part of the 2014–15 budget. Last fiscal year’s capital budget — the portion of the budget dedicated to improvements — allotted $1.6 million for IT. The funding was approved by last year’s Finance Committee.
Of the $1.6 million allotted last year, $300,000 was budgeted for software updates, while $400,000 was proposed to fund internal network and email upgrades. The remaining $900,000 was set aside for miscellaneous IT projects, including replacing outdated hardware and upgrading the city’s wireless network.
The city is currently using budget funds to transition from its current operating system to a new Microsoft Office 365 system, according to Grotheer. He added that implementing the software updates, which began in late March, will take over a month to complete across the city’s various offices.
The first upgrades will take place at the Hall of Records on Orange Street, Grotheer said.
“The new IT director will move the city forward into all of the opportunities that the new software can provide,” he added.
Although outdated IT has caused ongoing issues in the city — such as outdated email software incompatible with newer networks and an old internal network that frequently crashes — Jones said the proposed CIO position would be a more permanent solution than spending the city’s money on technology — as was done in the 2014–15 budget. The CIO will, Jones said, become the point person for all IT related issues, streamlining the implementation of new initiatives.
Festa said while she agrees that the city needs an employee to manage new IT systems after implementation, she does not think they necessarily need a director of the Office of Technology.
“Once we get the system up and running, we just need someone to maintain it,” she said.
She added that the city should consider hiring an outside tech company to address the city’s IT needs as a possible long-term fix, especially because the finance department is requesting a relatively large salary for the CIO position. Festa also said she did not understand why the city could not outsource for a number of years and then employ someone to manage the system.
However, Jones said at last week’s budget workshop that outsourcing may not be an adequate solution for the range of issues with outdated technology in city government.
Festa said discussion between the alders and the finance department about the new position would likely continue at the two remaining budget workshops, to be hold on April 15 and April 29.