News Column

EDITORIAL: $700,000 in high definition

June 29, 2014

The Frederick News-Post, Md.

June 29--We're not sure whether we're more surprised the Frederick County Commissioners voted the week before the primary election to spend $700,000 to upgrade its video system or that Blaine Young's justification to do so was partly because most people buy a new television about every year.

We don't doubt the county's audiovisual equipment at Winchester Hall, used to televise public meetings, is starting to become dated and in need of repair.

But seriously, $700,000?

Actually, the estimated cost is $697,658 to purchase cameras, microphones, soundboards and other devices to broadcast, in high definition, county meeting and programs on television and over the Internet. The county did receive five bids, but we also question whether or not the bid proposal needed to include all the bells and whistles.

We also think that's a lot of money since, ironically, the Frederick County Board of Education had hoped to convince the commissioners it needed $6 million in technology funding to support their goal of providing digital devices to every teacher and student. The commissioners eventually approved just $1 million of the request for fiscal 2015, taking the money from the county's parks acquisition and development fund.

Now, maybe we're missing something here, but the math seems out of whack to us when commissioners can find $700,000 to improve technology in one building (Winchester Hall), but can only find $1 million to improve digital technology in an entire school system with 66 schools and more than 40,700 students.

So why did the commissioners give their own technology improvements such a high priority?

Well, in recent months the county staff said it had been experiencing an increasing number of problems with the audio equipment. During the lengthy Monrovia Town Center hearings, the sound became so scratchy that county staff had to shut down the system and reboot it mid-meeting, according to a June 20 story by News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers.

Sherry Weakley, the county's information technologies director, said finding replacement parts for system repairs was becoming more difficult. During the past two years, the county spent about $26,300 on repairs, services and temporary solutions to keep the equipment working.

Young, meanwhile, noted that the equipment and software was between seven and 15 years old and was ready for the trash heap. County officials are hoping to sell some of it at a public auction to recover some of its value.

"That's pretty good ... Most people get a new TV about every year," Young said. "They've gotten great life out of our video equipment."

Most people we know don't buy a new television every year. That's just a ridiculous comment to make to rationalize an expensive capital purchase.

And is all of that reason enough to blow $700,000 -- particularly from a group of commissioners who have billed themselves as the protectors of taxpayer money? No, it's not. Of course, on the other hand, the next time the county commissioners tell each other to "shut up" during a public meeting or one of them shouts at a taxpayer during the citizens' comment period, then viewers will be able to see and hear it broadcast in sharper detail. And who'll want to miss that?


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Source: Frederick News-Post (MD)

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