The City of Long Beach is facing an aging digital infrastructure, one characterized as “obsolete in most cases”, which could cost the city tens of millions of dollars to address. The shortfalls of the city’s technological systems and how policy makers could go about paying for them was the focus of a study session Tuesday night before the city council.
In total, the current tab to update the city’s tech needs stands at about $88 million when accounting for the potential installation of a fiber network to link city entities, replacing outdated equipment and technology systems as well as updating the city’s public safety communications.
The presentation given by the city’s Director of Financial Management John Gross and Director of Technology and Innovation Bryan Sastokas laid out the need and touched on a few avenues on how the city could pay for it.
“Our technology infrastructure is at the end of its life and are not able to reliably support the new systems being installed to meet our business needs,” Sastokas said. “Without making an investment, the result will be operations that lead to poor customer service, create time delays as costly repairs and maintenance are made just to maintain the old systems and expose the city to more cyber risks. Simply put, our aging infrastructure is putting us at risk.”
Outside of generating new revenue, the city is looking to potentially borrow money to upgrade these features or build the costs into the city’s operating budget. Gross advised that taking out loans could result in the city falling into a cycle of loans and payments as the technologies would likely have to be replaced at the end of any potential loan. Building those payments into the normal budget would likely mean cuts to other services, however, which would be on the chopping block was not explored during the presentation.
It’s estimated that to install a fiber network for the city, one that would link city services and buildings and provide a speed that “our customers expect” could cost nearly $12 million with annual debt service payments of $700,000. However, savings of about $400,000 could be found through not paying companies like AT&T or Frontier for services with other additional savings of up to $2 million annually, according to Gross.
The largest chunks of the projected $88 million in required investments lie in updating equipment ($43.1 million) and replacing radios and other public safety communication devices which is estimated to run about $21 million. While technology equipment and other facets of the presentation given Tuesday would require a loan or other revenues to pay for them, the public safety communication element could be open to its own source of funding.
Gross pointed out that unallocated Measure A funding could be used to invest in the city’s communication network as it would fall under the scope of the measure. Passed by voters in June of last year, the 10-year sales tax increase was meant to fund road repairs, public infrastructure projects and investments in public safety like new recruit academies. The radios, Gross said, would be covered by the measure’s intent.
“Measure A one-time funding is appropriate to consider since the public safety communications technology that we need involves measure A priorities which are public safety and infrastructure capital,” Gross said. “It actually covers both of them.”
The presentation had been over a year in the making after council members had requested the city attorney’s office to work with the innovation and public works departments in drafting an ordinance that would require the installation of communication infrastructure at ongoing street repair sites in a “dig once” policy.
Since then, the city has laid fiber cables on Atlantic Boulevard near Jordan High School as part of a surveillance camera program with the lines also doubling as a wifi-hotspot near the school and Houghton Park. While those fiber lines serve a dual purpose for both the city and the community, the presentation centered on expanding the city’s capabilities, not for the public at large.
The presentation was short and lacked clear timetables, maps of impacted areas or funding solutions via the oft-mentioned public-private partnership options, leading one of the co-authors of the “dig once” policy, Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, to question the depth of the information being provided to the council considering the enormity of the decision that was before them.
“I thought that today we would be getting something more meaningful, with some meat behind it,” Mungo said. “I recognize that we can’t pull up all the streets today and lay the fiber, it has to be done in partnership with our street repairs, but it’s been 15 months and I feel that with 15 months that we should see something more.”
The study session concluded Tuesday but the discussion surrounding the city’s technological needs as well as any votes to allocate money to shore them up are expected to continue in the coming months. The council will not meet October 31 but elements of the session could be back before the council by early November.