County council considering digitization

Sussex County Council is considering going digital. Eddie Sparpaglione, the county’s director of information systems, presented the five-man council with a $20,000 plan Tuesday to install five touch-screen computers at the council desk to provide the councilmen easier access to information and to cut down on paper usage.

Packets issued now through paper mail would be sent digitally to the councilmen and they could view presentations on personal computers at their desk to assist in the decision-making process. A projection screen for visitors in attendance at council meetings was also part of the proposal.

“When you are making decisions, it is nice to have these tools at your fingertips,” Sparpaglione said Tuesday, adding that installing new technology could translate into efficiency improvements and savings on postage. Its main object, though, would be to provide the councilmen with easy access to a host of information, Sparpaglione said. “Having information available to you is invaluable.”

Sussex County Administrator Dave Baker echoed that sentiment, saying that the digital system “may provide even more information to help you make decisions here.”

During presentations — such as those regarding change-of-zone and subdivision applications — maps available online could especially prove helpful, Sparpaglione said.

Digital maps updated monthly and available at offer a wider scope of a proposed area, as well as indicating who owns property there and what features nearby could be possible points of malcontent or sources of optimism for the project.

Those digital maps — based on aerial photos taken five years ago (new photos are expected next year) — feature zooming tools and the photos are “very detailed,” offering even the most unaware an intimate view of the proposed site and surrounding areas.

“You don’t always have the opportunity to go out to these sites,” Sparpaglione said. “It gives you a broad overview of the area and helps you make decisions. There are always questions and always will be,” and those questions could be answered easily using the digital system, he added.

Anything viewed online as a part of the record during public meetings would be subject to Freedom of Information Act requirements, the same as paper documents, the county’s counsel confirmed Tuesday.

Specific details of the proposed digitization’s practical operation were not known as of Tuesday, officials said. Sparpaglione estimated that each of the computers — including two more-normal (non-touch screen) ones for Baker and the county’s finance director — would cost about $2,000, with the projection system costing $5,000 to $8,000. The county’s digital head did not estimate, however, when the new equipment could be installed if council approved the operation.

Council voted 4-0 Tuesday to allow Sparpaglione to further study the opportunity and to develop a proposed process of how to use the equipment during the meetings. Formal procedure would afford presenters, county officials and councilmen established guidelines for using the equipment during meetings.

“Come up with a proposal. I’d like to see something we can rely on,” Councilman George Cole (R-4th) said Tuesday. “Then we can fine tune it.”

Sparpaglione is expected to present a proposal after county council’s two-week hiatus for the holidays. Council’s next scheduled meeting is on Jan. 9 in council chambers in the county building off The Circle in Georgetown.