Bluffton Town Council receives iPads

Bluffton Town Council members will each receive an iPad during the next few weeks, a move that officials hope will aid a shift toward paperless meetings.

Mayor Lisa Sulka, the four council members, five top-level town directors and two information-technology staff members will be getting the $499 devices, at a total cost of about $6,000.

Town finance director Shirley Freeman said in an email the expense was included in the 2012 IT budget, will be paid for from the general fund and "is part of an ongoing effort to create efficiencies and technologies within town operations."

The iPads also will be a good communication tool in an emergency, such as an evacuation, she said.

The move to update and take advantage of technology includes posting council agendas to the town's website, which started about a year ago. About six months ago, Town Council members were given laptops that were used by the IT department, and they were expected to bring them to monthly council meetings, Councilman Mike Raymond said.

Printing out town agendas and delivering them by courier for monthly council meetings costs the town $175 a month. That does not include the expenses associated with various committee meetings throughout the month, said Freeman, who expects the iPads to pay for themselves in about 14 months.

Town Councilman Fred Hamilton said the council did not request the iPads but that the town manager decided to get them to "save some trees."

Hamilton said he will be turning in the "probably outdated" town laptop he currently uses for both town and personal business; it will go back to the IT department for use.

"I'm more accustomed to reading things electronically than trying to sit down with hundreds and hundred of pages of documents," he said.

Councilman Mike Raymond said paper agendas are not efficient when there are last-minute amendments or other changes. In addition, the battery life of an iPad is much longer than the one in the town laptop he uses, he said.

He said he'll probably need training on how to use the faster, lighter iPad.

Todd Roseneau, the town's IT director, said he will be training iPad recipients individually.

Bluffton's iPad purchases follows the lead of Beaufort County government, which bought the devices for some council members and the clerk in April. They began with five of the devices and have since acquired 15 more for other staff members, including library employees who can now find books and items in its catalog from the stacks instead of returning to the reference desk, county mapping and geographical services director Dan Morgan said.

The county's cost to prepare information packages for a single council meeting was estimated at $600, officials said.

The iPads allow elected officials and staff to "go into meetings and have information at their fingertips," Morgan said.

County administrator Gary Kubic said the iPad program has been successful and that Bluffton is wise to emulate it.

"What I also would like to see happen is a lot more intergovernmental communication so that we can take advantage of these technologies and learn from each other," Kubic said. "It would help us make better decisions about what we should or should not pursue."

In fact, Beaufort County is considering how it might use iPhones for cost-savings and efficiency.

Freeman said Hamilton will be getting an iPhone from the town, while Raymond will receive a different kind of smartphone. The other council members have not asked for one, and the mayor already has a town-provided phone, Freeman said.

The two new smartphones to be purchased cost about $199 each, and data plans for council members' phones are paid for by the town at a cost of about $70 a month.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

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