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Computer woes beset Town Hall; Municipal services hampered since early January.

Byline: Bill Fortier

AUBURN - A problem with the computer system in Town Hall has kept many departments from getting necessary work done for more than a month.

A problem with the computer server that holds the templates for various licenses and permits and other forms for town departments has been frustrating employees at least since early January. Director of Public Health Andrew R. Pelletier estimated that his department's efficiency by between 40 percent and 50 percent and said the problems started for him Dec. 27.

In many cases, crashes of the server has forced employees to re-create information by hand. In addition, Town Hall employees have lost e-mail service since the beginning of the year.

It appears, however, that some headway is being made, at least for some offices in Town Hall.

Town Clerk Ellen C. Gaboury said yesterday was the first time in more than a month that she was able to get and send e-mail.

"I have 288 e-mails to go through," she said yesterday afternoon while adding that she was finally able to use various templates and forms, also for the first time in more than a month.

At about 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Pelletier said he was still unable to get computer access to forms for licenses and permits, but he was finally to get e-mail. He had about 90 messages that have piled up during the past month.

Town Administrator Charles T. O'Connor, Jr. said IT Security of Warren, R.I., has been working on what Assistant MIS Director and Assistant Town Accountant Katherine J. Hanson said is essentially rebuilding the town's computer system. She said the effort is "winding down" and nearly complete and the hope is that the system will be back to normal by today.

Mrs. Gaboury said a worker for the IT Security worked overnight in Town Hall Tuesday night and Wednesday morning on the problem.

Assistant Town Administrator Edward J. Kazanovicz, who is also the town accountant, said the Rhode Island firm is to be paid a fee not to exceed $24,000 to fix the town's computer system.

Meanwhile, an internal working group has been formed to study the computer situation. The members are Mr. O'Connor, Mr. Kazanovicz, Interim Superintendent of Schools William E. Allen, School Department Business Manager Daniel Deedy and selectman Robert P. Valentine who has an extensive background in computers.

Mr. O'Connor said Wednesday the committee had not met yet because of scheduling conflicts.

Mr. O'Connor said he thought the internal working group would come up with recommendations soon.

"I don't see it as a long-lasting working group," he said.

MIS Director Aaron L. Longfield has been on paid leave for about three weeks. Mr. O'Connor, saying it was a personnel matter, declined further comment.

Problems with the effectiveness of the town's computer system have been the subject of Board of Selectmen and School Committee meetings during the past year. In addition, the town's Web site has been down at times in recent months.

The situation has worsened since the first of the year, however, and it is not unusual to stop in a Town Hall office and have a staffer say he or she can't do any computer-based work because the system isn't working.

Mr. Kazanovicz said services such as payroll and the payment of bills have not been affected. However, the issuance of permits and notice of violations has been hampered.

For example, Mr. Pelletier said, forms his office issues have had to be re-created individually because they can't be called up on the computer and filled out, a process that can be time-consuming.

In addition, the lack of e-mail meant he couldn't get information or alerts concerning Board of Health issues.

Mrs. Gaboury said she is doing her office's payroll by hand. In addition, the town clerk's office can't process items such as dog licenses, business certificates and marriage licenses, all of which produce revenue at a time when the town has a freeze for nonessential items.

"I can't access the database," she said Wednesday.

Once the system is up and running, the information and fees collected since Jan. 1 will have to be entered into the computer system, something that Mrs. Gaboury said will be very time consuming. She said the work will have to be done during the regular business day while workers in the office are performing their ordinary duties.

"With the freeze, I don't think we'll be getting any overtime to get that work done," she said.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 8, 2008
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