$13,000 tag on computer is a surprise to Manchester In 2 months of discussion, cost was never disclosed


MANCHESTER -- The town bought a $13,000 computer system last week.

But the town's residents were not told what they were buying until after it was done.

The system, to be installed by Municipal Services Group Inc. of Hampstead, will allow the town to speed processing of real estate, water and sewer bills, increase efficiency in the police department and organize the town's correspondence.

The council and Mayor Earl A. J. Warehime Jr. would not release cost estimates on the system provided by the Hampstead computer company for the more than two months they had been discussing it.

"Municipal Services Group considered the information proprietary and confidential," said David Warner, the town's projects administrator and the person most involved in the purchase.

The system and the apparently confidential price structure from Municipal Services were discussed, debated and approved during an open council meeting Tuesday. Requests for the bid before and after the council vote were denied by Warner.

In general, the state's open meetings and freedom of information laws require public officials to disclose documents discussed during open session. State laws also generally require government bodies to let the public know how they are spending public money before they decide to spend it.

However, Municipal Services' owner Paul Cross disclosed what the town will buy from him late Friday afternoon, saying the town was probably confused about his confidentiality concerns.

He was worried that when the town first approached him, his price list might be disclosed to other firms the town was considering, allowing them to undercut Municipal Services.

Cross said the town is buying three new computer terminals at a total cost of $4,745, a new hard-frame computer at a cost of $4,250, and a set of software packages at $4,150.

For more than six months, the town has wanted to update the computer system it bought from Westminster-based Basically Computers in 1984 for nearly $17,000. Warner decided to contact Cross, a one-time partner in Basically Computers, and ask him about improving the system.

At $13,000, the new system's price is almost triple the amount Manchester's town charter requires to be put out for competitive bid.

But according to Kathryn L. Riley, the town's clerk/treasurer, the council considers the new system an upgrade and therefore not a new purchase, making it exempt from town law requiring all capital expenses of more than $5,000 to be advertised and put out for bid.

"Since we're still dealing with essentially the same company that sold us the computer system in the first place, it is an improvement," Riley said.

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