Jefferson County officials are hoping to save money by finding a new phone service provider, a move that comes after a bruising, lingering fight over the hardware that the new phone company will use.
Officials last week sent out a request for proposals, asking telecommunications companies to quote their prices for phone service to the countys offices. The bid was specifically geared at voice-over Internet protocol phone service, which is usually cheaper than typical phone service.
Im hoping that by doing this RFP, we get cheaper rates and save the county money, said Gregory C. Hudson, the countys information technology manager.
But a delay in reducing its phone bill rankled some members of the Board of Legislators, who thought the county should have acted more quickly to save taxpayer money. Legislator Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown, was among those asking questions about the delay before the request for a new phone contract went out. The phone system, which was approved in 2010, cost $886,900 after installation was finished in late 2011, said Treasurer Karen M. Christie. Thats slightly less than the county had budgeted.
Mark L. Sachetti, the head of the county Purchasing Department, said the request for a new phone company was originally set to be released in late 2011, but a top county IT officials illness delayed the process. The request went out only a few days later than the county had estimated in the beginning of the year, Mr. Sachetti said.
Bids are due in August.
The phone system and phone service are separate but related issues. Essentially, the phone system is the hardware that is in place, and the phone service is what the hardware plugs into. The hardware came from Cisco Systems, and the service provider has yet to be decided.
That hardware was approved in 2010, despite concerns from county legislators that it cost too much money. The savings by switching to voice over Internet protocol from traditional landline phones projected at more than $100,000 a year helped bolster the arguments among legislators who supported upgrading the countys 30-year-old hardware with a nearly million-dollar system.
But the county could have switched to the cheaper VOIP service even with its old hardware.
Ive said all along, If you can save this money, why arent you doing it? said Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, the most vocal critic of the new phone system. The delay in finding a new provider goes back to the point that I believe youre being sold a bill of goods.
Meanwhile, the county actually has already switched over to the cheaper VOIP phone service via a state contract. The move, in 2011, saved the county money but it could have done so before buying the new phone system, and county officials arent sure how they missed out on the savings.
At some point in the past 10 years, the county was removed from a cheaper state contract through Verizon, but was put back on the contract in 2011 amid discussions with the company about its phone service, Mr. Hudson said. Joining state contracts doesnt require a competitive bidding process.
By sending a request for proposals, the county opens up the possibility of going on its own, though it could stay on the Verizon contract through the state if thats cheaper, Mr. Hudson said. He couldnt immediately say how much money the county had saved since switching to a state VOIP contract in 2011.