Officials wonder if Barton spends enough in his IT budget

    On one hand, Philip Barton is a penny-pincher, soybean-counter’s dream. Not only does the City of Crookston information technology director never seem to ask for gaudy sums of money in his annual IT budget, he rarely spends all of the conservative amount of money that he asks for and receives in his annual budget.

    But on the other hand, as Crookston City Council members, City Administrator Shannon Stassen and City Finance Director Angel Weasner went through Barton’s 2018 IT budget this week, a couple people around the table couldn’t help but wonder if Barton’s not being a bit too conservative by not asking for enough money for various IT initiatives.

    “Our issue over the years has been are we spending enough?” At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said. “(Barton) is very conservative and we know this is an expensive business.”

    To that, Barton said he doesn’t feel like he’s “scraping along” but at the same time he doesn’t feel like he has to push his budget “all the way up to the line” and that he likes to have some “head room if something bad happens.”

    Still, Mayor Wayne Melbye and others have asked Barton to look into IT investments such as mounting video/surveillance cameras at various locations downtown, and launching wi-fi capabilities for the entire downtown.

    “The cameras would be just to see what’s going on, and maybe we could help the police department,” the mayor said, adding that he’s familiar with the cost and how they work since cameras are in place at Ampride/Crookston Fuel, which Melbye manages. “Maybe we start small and add a little bit each year.”

    Barton says he’s spoken to Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier about adding cameras downtown, and that the first cameras that people might notice will actually be located at or near the CPD and its parking lot. “It could become a safe place for things like Craigslist exchanges,” Barton explained.

    The City could pay essentially anything it wanted for cameras, he added. “As far as cost, the tradeoff is having hardware that lasts more than a couple years,” Barton said.

    Melbye said he doesn’t want to spend a fortune, but that cameras could be mounted in “strategic places” that have a view of various City parking lots and other properties. “We’re in a very big business and we’re liable for a lot of things,” he said. “It might not be a bad idea to look at it.”

    As for offering public wireless access downtown, Barton said it’s not an expensive proposition. “You don’t need cables or wires, just power and units that talk to each other and transfer traffic,” he explained, adding that he’s looking at potentially offering wifi service extending from Central Park to Town Square, but that it’s not in his 2018 budget request.

    City officials directed Barton to put more details together on both the camera and wifi initiatives.