The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 17, 2013

New tech for an old city

Software, cloud computing help daily functions

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — Farrell Code Officer Mark Yerskey and his lieutenant Jonathan Laird were in their offices Wednesday afternoon, but they weren’t chained to their desks completing paperwork.

“Right now I have 127 records open,” Laird said, although his faux wood-grained desktop was free of clutter.

“Can you imagine if I had 127 files out,” he said.

But on his tablet computer, Laird had the files open, using a “cloud-based” software system initiated by City Manager Michael Ceci that’s exponentially increased productivity.

The data is stored in the “cloud” of the virtual world on the Web using a program that costs $1,800 a year to use, Ceci said.

“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on” how much the software has improved code enforcement in the city, he said.

It’s also just one component of a technological upgrade that’s been evolving for about a year in this tradition-rich city.

But instead of using the pen-and-paper of the glory days, city officials are now using tablet computers, cell phones, and the Web to do business.

The site “www.cityoffarrell.com” is now more than a place holder on the Web: On it, folks can see who their elected officials are, read budgets, peruse minutes, and pay or make arrangements to pay taxes and sewer bills, according to Ceci.

“It just makes sense to use it,” Ceci said of the technology.

He’s hoping to increase tax and bill collections now that paying bills can be just a mouse-click and credit card number away from becoming current.

There’s also a savings in administering the sewer bills instead of paying Aqua Pennsylvania to do the job, Ceci said.

Those savings along with the savings of going to an Internet-based phone service have saved the city tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

And since making those changes over the course of the last year, service has only improved and there have been no disruptions in service because of any technological glitches, Ceci said.

The code office’s use of tablets and computerizing its records have provided the most visible improvements, he said.

“I can’t put a dollar figure on the productivity increase,” Ceci said of the code office.

“We’re not chained to our desks anymore,” Laird said. “I can print a letter (here) that’s generated out in the field.”

“We can do case after case after case,” Yerskey said.

Last Wednesday, Laird did 31 inspections in the morning, something that was unheard of in the days of yore.

“It makes things so much easier,” Laird said.

It allowed the code office to complete rental inspections on time last year – a first, according to Ceci. Since September they’ve issued 225 citations, Yerskey said.

“It doesn’t even compare (to previous numbers). We would do them in handfuls,” he said.