Bellone administration computer experts have come under fire after a legislative capital budget report questioned a $4.9 million software deal, warning it will not save the $1 million touted and could end up costing millions more.
The Suffolk Legislature's Office of Budget Review called for axing the funding from the budget, but Bellone aides justified the deal, saying it would not only save money, but also would standardize computer services throughout the county, making it easier for officials to measure productivity.
The clash came to light Thursday when Donald Rogers, the information technology commissioner, and Thomas Melito, Suffolk deputy county executive for performance management, appeared before a legislative committee to defend the expenditure.
The budget review report, released a week ago, warned, "Actual savings are much less than anticipated and may not be attainable at all." The report said the deal will include licenses to service 5,000 users, but does not include two of the county's largest departments -- police and social services. It said the savings estimates do not include the cost of getting out of existing software licenses and cautioned that the county may potentially need to replace many of its 12,700 desktop computers if they cannot accommodate the new software.
However, Rogers defended the project, saying county departments in the past had gone their own way in making decisions about computers and software, which is more costly and makes it difficult to manage data between agencies. Should the deal be rejected, he said, "It will be a detriment, we will spend money that we should not have to spend."
Bellone aides also said the deal would provide the county with $450,000 worth of training. "You can't afford not to do this," said Melito. "There's no choice if you want an efficient public organization."
In light of the criticism, Rogers late Friday warned that the county could run the risk of losing support technology and be out of compliance with Microsoft licensing rules if it fails to enter a new deal.
He also said the new deal will include social services and police and is an improvement over the old agreement, which licensed each computer. The new pact licenses 5,000 users who are each authorized to use five separate devices -- allowing increased use of mobile technology. Rogers also said the price Suffolk is getting is below the state bid price of $5.9 million.
Robert Lipp, director of the budget review office, said he stands by the original report but said the administration is "presenting a different story than we originally received." However, he added that a number of details "remain unclear." He also cautioned lawmakers that the new deal is the first time the county has ever borrowed to pay for software expenses. While legal, he said, "It's just another slippery slope."
The clash has left lawmakers struggling to determine the right course. "We're just trying to understand why there is such a wide gap," said Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon)
Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai) said of the debate over the agreement: "It's like day and night. Right now, there's a vast divide."
The issue now goes to the legislature's capital budget working committee, which will decide whether to follow the analysts' recommendation or an individual lawmaker could propose an amendment on his or her own. The legislature is schedule to vote on the 2014 capital budget and three-year capital program on June 4.