Competition helped the county save money in less time than first projected.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County has a new master agreement for telephone service, but the only numbers that will change are those that appear on the monthly bill.
Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, secretary and administrator of the county's Automated Data Processing Board, said the county will save about $1 million in the next three years by replacing dozens of individual contracts with the master agreement.
While the county will take advantage of existing data lines by doubling up voice and data services, current department telephone numbers will be preserved, said Jacob A. Williams, the county's information technology director.
The county's collective needs inspired competitive bidding between service providers. "With data processing now managing the complete telecom network, including telecom service, we are able to leverage the county's overall usage to achieve the best discount," Williams said.
Negotiations began last summer between the county and SBC, which had been providing service and has since merged with AT & amp;T. The company proposed a contract that would have saved the county about $987,000 over seven years, Williams said.
Williams called some other companies last September, which led to more bids. Finalists were AT & amp;T and Choice One Communications, which serves small and medium-sized companies in the nation's Northeast and Midwest regions.
"Both companies ended up sharpening their pencils," Sciortino said. As each company revised its proposal, the length of the contract shortened from seven years to three years.
Eventually, county officials chose AT & amp;T because it offered savings and reliability without interruption in service. Choice One didn't have experience in serving government and couldn't fully take over the county's voice and data network, according to Williams' report to data processing board members.
Also, the master agreement with AT & amp;T supersedes the county's existing contracts, which were subject to termination fees if canceled, Williams said.
The county will use Choice One to provide analog fax lines, at a savings of $15,000 over previous costs.
AT & amp;T will remain the county's long-distance provider, although its per-minute rate has been renegotiated from 6 cents to 3.5 cents. That's a savings of 43 percent on the county's annual long-distance cost of $52,100 for 850,000 minutes.
Fiber ring to be installed
The county also will install a fiber ring to carry both voice and data, Williams said. Costly telephone lines will be replaced with Internet connections at remote sites, such as the sanitary engineering department's treatment plants at Meander Reservoir and in Boardman and New Middletown, he said.
With individual agreements, officeholders and department heads had to forward telephone bills to the auditor for payment. Now the county will receive one bill and will maintain one service agreement. An internal service fund is being established, and money will be drawn from each department to pay its share of the bill, Sciortino said.
The master agreement and single bill also enhance accountability by reducing the chance of lost bills and late payments, Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said.
Commissioners empowered the data processing board to manage the phone consolidation process, Sciortino said.