The Mobile City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday morning to transfer about $1.75 million in unspent capital bond funds to be used for various technology improvements, ahead of the implementation of a new software system. Councilman John Williams had to leave before the vote took place.
The money comes from funds not spent as part of a larger, $6.5 million allocation related to a radio system, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch told councilors, during a pre-conference meeting. Of the $1.75 million, about $1.2 million will go toward hardware upgrades, while about $557,000 will be put into an administrative services account for new equipment.
The administration plans to use a portion of the money on a new telephone switch to control the city’s entire phone system, said Sue Farni, city information technology director. The plan is to move the 20-year-old switch and other technology to a building near the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center and out of a flood zone.
“We’re trying to get it done before hurricane season starts,” Farni said.
In addition, the IT department would like to bury aerial cables related to 9-1-1 service to protect it from storms, Farni said.
Councilman Fred Richardson questioned transferring so much money to IT when there were needs elsewhere in the city. For instance, he mentioned complaints he had received over a failure to pick up some city garbage on Monday. He blamed the failure on broken-down garbage trucks.
“IT is working now,” he said. “Police, fire and garbage are core services and we have trucks out there that aren’t running. That’s far more important than IT.”
Bill Harkins, executive director of Public Works, told councilors that workers consistently have to make up garbage routes, due to trucks breaking down.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson acknowledged that the city motor pool is in “deplorable” shape and it has been since before he took office. He added that IT plays a huge role in emergency response.
“It is tied together,” he said. “I don’t argue that something should be done about the vehicles … But I think it’s a crucial need … to make sure IT service is supported.”
City Attorney Ricardo Woods also explained to councilors that simply sitting on leftover bond money could result in penalties from the federal government.
“You don’t want to hold up spending on bond funds because the IRS will start to ask questions,” Woods said. “You don’t want to continually say you don’t want to spend bond money due to district needs.”
During the meeting, Stimpson recognized British Counsel General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, who was in town for the rededication of British Park on Tuesday for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Bowyer in the War of 1812. Councilman John Williams presented Pilmore-Bedford with a lapel pin and keychain featuring the city’s seal.
Stimpson also recognized city employee Dexter Johnston, from the parks and recreation department, as employee of the month. Stimpson also recognized Mobile Police Department officer Raymond Williams as officer of the month.
In other business, the city authorized a performance contract worth $75,000 with the Friends of the Mobile Animal Shelter to be used for a new kennel to house cats for adoption.