Though a last-minute reprieve is possible, it appears that the idea of buying a laptop computer for every Niagara County legislator is done for.
The Legislature's Administration Committee last week removed the item from a $1 million technology package it proposes to pay for with some of the county's tobacco bond revenue.
The full Legislature will discuss the projects contending for a chunk of the tobacco cash at a special session at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The county has more than $14 million not yet allocated from the sale of its share of the national tobacco lawsuit settlement. The county sold more than $47 million worth of bonds and allocated most of the proceeds to paying off its existing debts.
The county had $19 million to spend, though, and so far it has allocated a little less than $5 million.
Last month, Central Data Processing Director Larry L. Helwig included the laptops for the 19 legislators in what was then a $1,193,000 technology package. The computers would have cost $66,000, or about $3,500 apiece for top-of-the-line models with 15-inch screens.
At Thursday's Administration Committee meeting, Helwig, with a Dell computer catalog in hand, said he had scaled back to a less expensive model that would cost $2,822 each, for a total of $53,618.
"I can get it down to $30,000 with 12-inch screens," Helwig said. But the committee voted 5-1 to drop the whole idea.
"Let's take them out," said Legislator Gerald E. Meal, R-Royalton. "We don't need those now. Let's get what we need now."
He said if the county still has money left after funding necessary projects, the purchase could be reconsidered.
"Most of us have (personal computers) at home," said Legislator John W. Cole III, D-Lockport.
The only vote in favor of the laptops came from Legislator Samuel P. Granieri, R-Niagara Falls.
"Let's get into the modern age," Granieri said. "It's $50,000 from a tobacco settlement that's over $40 million in a (county) budget that's over $200 million. We shouldn't kill ourselves over it."
The computers were envisioned to give lawmakers access at home or in the Legislature Chambers to the county's computer system, while eliminating the need to photocopy stacks of paper every time a resolution is changed during a meeting.
"I think there would be an advantage," said Legislature Clerk Christopher A. Pannozzo. "There's a mind-set that needs to change about using a machine instead of a piece of paper."
Helwig said it's often difficult to reach legislators during business hours, because most have other jobs, and making sure they are all on the county e-mail network would improve communications between legislators and department heads.
But he also said eight legislators already have sign-on names for the county network.
Helwig urged the lawmakers to pass the rest of the technology package. Thirty-three county departments and offices agreed to allow $257,000 worth of computer equipment purchases to be removed from the regular budget because they were promised the purchases would be made with tobacco money.
"This is becoming real critical," Helwig said. He also said the county needs to upgrade its Microsoft Office software to the latest versions because other agencies already have and the county won't be able to communicate with them as time goes on.