Municipal Computer Use In Maine Takes Dramatic Leap
(from Maine Townsman, November 1996)
By Kate Dufour

The 1990's spin on the term technology reflects our need for immediate access to information, data, and resources. Municipalities in Maine have ventured and embraced the technology age through the use of computers to conduct municipal business, and to connect them to a variety of different information databases.

The growth is illustrated in the historical municipal computer ownership trends that have taken place since the early 1970's. A survey conducted in 1983 by the Department of Public Administration at the University of Maine in Orono, found that 43 municipalities had computers, an increase of 59.2% from a similar 1978 study. Over a decade later, an MMA survey reveals that municipal ownership of computers has increased 358% from the 43 municipalities in 1983 to 197 municipalities in 1996. (See accompanying graph).

In March, 1996, MMA's Local Government Resource Center conducted a survey of municipalities to inventory computers and find out what functions these computers are used for.

Of Maine's 489 communities, 236 municipalities returned their surveys for a response rate of 48.3%. As indicated in Table I, the response rate was significant. Not only did nearly onehalf of the entire Maine municipal population respond, we found that individual group statistics also illustrate a high level of participation. This high response rate enables projections to be made statewide.

Population: Under 2,000 2,000-4,999 5,000-9,999 10,000 +
# Municipalities

337

95

40

17

#Respondents

140

58

31

7

% Resp/Total

41.54

61.05

77.50

41.18

 

The following report summarizes the findings of the MMA survey regarding municipal computer inventories, use and personnel.

INVENTORY

Do most municipalities have computers? Yes. Of the 236 respondents, 197 (83.5%) indicated that they have computers in their municipal offices. Of the 16.5% without computers, 42.3% indicated that they used their home computers to conduct municipal business.

Based on these statistics, municipal employees are using computers to do their jobs. Whether in the office or at home, computers are playing a major role in municipal business.

The value and the use of computers is further exemplified by the analyses of future purchasing plans. Municipalities with computers expect to purchase over 400 computers in the next two years, while those without computers expect to purchase only seven. Simply, those municipalities with computers will continue to purchase, while those without have no future purchasing plans.

USE

Municipal offices are generally using computers for daily operations and as a communication tool. When asked what functions computers were being used for, taxes, financial management and text processing were the most popular. Table II illustrates which functions are accomplished through the use of computers, and the three most popular types of software for that function. For example, 94.1% of the respondent indicated that they used computers to do taxes, the three most popular types of tax software cited were Gemini Systems, Northern Data Systems, and Custom Designs. (NOTE: Custom Designs are programs municipalities have designed to meet their needs, no specific software was mentioned in the survey therefore the term custom design was used.)

Table II:

Municipal Function

% Respondents

Top Three Software Packages for Function

First

Second

Third

Taxes

94.1

Gemini

Northern Data

Custom Designs

Financial Mgmnt

88.5

Gemini

Northern Data

Exel & Lotus (tie)

Text Processing

88

MS-Word

WordPerfect

Word Star

Assessing

79.8

Gemini

MS-Works

Custom Designs

Payroll

77.9

Gemini

Northern Data

Munis

Desktop Publishing

39.3

MS-Publisher

MS-Word

WordPerfect

Records/Archives

28.7

MS-Works

Northern Data

WordPerfect

Code Enforcement

27.5

Gemini

MS-Word

Custom Designs

Equipment Inventory

24.3

MS-Works

WordPerfect

Northern Data

Purchasing

22.2

Northern Data

Munis

Gemini

Workload Scheduling

9.9

MS-Works

MS Project

Lotus Organizer

 

While the listing is not a promotion of any particular software, it does provide insight into the types software packages municipalities are using. If your municipality is interested in any of the software programs and would like to speak to some of the municipalities using the software, please contact the MMA Local Government Resource Center for more information.

Just over 58% of the respondents stated that they have modems. Modems provide access to a varied of different resources including databases, information warehouses, and other people via the telephone line. The speed of a modem is determined by its baud rate. On the market today the slowest baud rate is a 2400 and the fastest a 36.6.Kb, with the 14.4Kb and 28.8Kb being the most popular. A higher baud rate enables you to transmit and receive data faster. Two points of interest: (1) a modem with a 2400 baud rate is obsolete, and (2) the baud rate plays an important role when taking into consideration the type of connection you want to make. The slower baud rates do not have the capacity to connect to some resources.

Another communication tool this survey examined was online access, the Internet. Over 21% of the municipalities currently have online access. The top three providers were America OnLine, CompuServe, and independent local providers. Fifty percent (50.0%) of the municipalities indicated that they would have access to the Internet in the future.

PERSONNEL

When asked about the employees needed to support technology, only 6.2% of the municipalities indicated having an official technology person, while 48.3% stated that they had an unofficial technology person.

The official technology person is defined as someone who has been officially assigned the responsibilities of installation, maintenance, upgrading and troubleshooting. Of the 6.2% with an official technology person, 14.3% have a full-time position dedicated to a municipality's computer operations.

The unofficial technology person is a person who has the knowledge and capabilities of computer installation, maintenance, upgrading and troubleshooting, and has "volunteered" to manage the municipality's computer operations.

The departments typically responsible for computer operations were: I.S. (Information Systems), administration, assessing, finance, and community development.

It is important to note, however, that 35.5% of the survey respondents indicated that neither official nor unofficial personnel was necessary to keep their computer functions operating.

CONCLUSION

Computer use in Maine municipalities has grown rapidly over the last decade. Municipal computer systems today are more complex and perform a varied of functions.

While some municipalities have employees and departments dedicated to computer functions; others do not. Some municipalities have modems and access to a variety of "online" databases and information warehouses; others do not. Some municipalities have all of the latest computer hardware and software; others do not.

However, all municipalities with computers are using them to conduct municipal functions in a more efficient and effective manner. Even if your municipality does not need the latest technology, you can still purchase a computer to ease the municipal workload. You can decide what computers will accomplish for your municipality. Computers are the calculators, ledgers, receipt boxes, and typewriters of yesterday.