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Arlington board OK's telecom upgrade

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ARLINGTON — The Arlington Select Board approved a proposal to modernize its municipal telecommunications system Monday night during a meeting conducted via teleconference.

As a result of the vote, the local government will be switching from a landline system at its town hall that dates to the mid-1980s to a cloud-based communications platform that offers virtual conferencing, instant messaging and an array of other services.

The new platform will also allow the town to set up a new phone number to field and route constituent calls related to the coronavirus outbreak, said board member Matthew Bykowski, who spearheaded the change. It will also make it easier for town employees and officials to work remotely during emergencies, he said.

The town hall is ordinarily open only from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, though it has been closed to the public since March 16, with office staff conducting business by phone and email. Community members have said the town needs an automated system that directs callers to the appropriate place, "and based on our current system that we have from 1984, we just can't do that," board member Todd Wilkins said during the meeting.

The municipal government currently does not have videoconferencing capacity of its own. The meeting on Monday night relied on a platform used by Bykowski's private employer, though it was publicly accessible.

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday signed into law H.681, which among other things temporarily allows public bodies to meet electronically without a physical meeting location.

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The town of Arlington currently pays a $334.73 every month for telephone-related services at town hall, Bykowski said. The new arrangement, through vendor 8x8, will cost $219.80 monthly, which represents an annual savings of $1,378.08.

The town will need to incur just under $3,000 in one-time costs related to the switch, Bykowski said. The municipality may draw funds for the initiative from its computer-related reserve fund, which contained $26,727.07 at the end of 2019, according to the town's latest annual report.

Because the new system will help to support Arlington's emergency operations center, at least part of its cost may end up being federally reimbursable, Bykowski said.

The new system will be installed "in parallel" with the existing system, so there is no gap in service, Bykowski said. The transition is expected to take about 30 days. Current local government phone numbers will remain the same.

The board approved moving to the new system by a vote of four to one. The dissenting vote was cast by state Rep. and board member Cynthia Browning, who had expressed support for the proposal but said it was too soon to vote for it.

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