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St. Lawrence County expands computer connections

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County is upgrading its wired network while expanding into the wireless world.

Legislators have agreed to transfer $50,000 from a contingency account to begin upgrading and replacing the county’s fleet of computers that use the Windows XP operating system. Microsoft intends to stop support for Windows XP in April 2014, rendering the county’s system open to hackers.

“We do have vulnerable information in our databases,” said Keith J. Zimmerman, interim Information Technology director. “We’ve been able to delay because Microsoft continued to support it. Now, we’re up against it.”

The county has about 700 computers, with about 400 needing replacement.

“We’ll upgrade everything we can upgrade,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “It is a mixture of software and hardware.”

The total cost could range from $400,000 to $450,000, he said.

“It was a little too big a pill to swallow,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

Instead, the county for this year’s budget included $250,000 in contingency, which could be used as partial payment for capital improvements, including the computers and various repairs, such as leaking roofs.

The $50,000 legislators approved in committee Monday will allow the IT department to start the computer transition. If the county decides to borrow for the full cost of its capital needs, the money will be returned to contingency.

Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said he would oppose any bonding because the county’s five-year plan includes $6.1 million over its life to handle capital expenses.

The plan was developed to convince state Senate lawmakers that the county would use an increase in its local sales tax to reduce property taxes in its first year and then keep them within the state’s tax cap in the out years.

“The plan didn’t include bonding, so no bonding,” Mr. Morrill said. “If you’re going to follow that five-year plan, the time starts now.”

At the same time the county is modernizing its desktop computers, it is providing legislators, the board’s administrative staff, and Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert with iPads.

The 19 iPads were purchased through an emergency services grant so that legislators out in the community can communicate during a crisis so long as they can find a wireless signal.

As an ancillary benefit, the county can stop producing paper packets of information for legislators. The Board of Legislators spends more than $10,000 annually on paper for agendas and reports.

“If you have a tool, why not use it?” Mr. Zimmerman said. “The faster way to communicate is electronically.”

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