Winneshiek County officials are giving the city of Decorah an ultimatum regarding expenses associated with shared information technology (IT) equipment.
At its meeting Monday night, the Decorah City Council received a letter from Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines that gives the city a deadline of April 28 to agree to a new sharing agreement. If city officials do not agree to the terms, they have until June 1 to remove city equipment from county servers.
“This is a clear threat to the city,” said Council member Kirk Johnson.
“We’re being held over a barrel with this letter. It is not very tasteful … not to my taste,” Council member Steve Luse said.

Since 2013
The city and county share equipment at the courthouse and at the Decorah Law Enforcement Center at Decorah City Hall, according to City Manager Chad Bird.
“The city of Decorah has had the benefit of using the shared data center since October of 2013. Since July of 2016, the county has discovered the city was never billed for many of these expenses,” Steines said in a Monday letter to City Manager Chad Bird. Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon read the letter to the Council.
The expenses, totaling $114,919, were discussed during an April 11 meeting with County Geographic Information System Coordinator Jon Lubke, City Clerk Wanda Hemesath, Bird and Steve Smith, the IT director the city and county share through a 28e intergovernmental agreement.
Steines said based on usage, the city’s share of those expenses is $45,967.
“My understanding of the city’s position is that you do not intend to pay this portion,” Steines wrote.
The auditor then proposed terms for a “Hosting Services Agreement” for the continued sharing of equipment that would benefit city and county taxpayers. Terms include:
• A four-year agreement between the entities with the city agreeing to pay a $1,000 a month base rate.
• The city would pay 40 percent of any additional expenses such as hardware, software, licensing renewals, consulting expenses and other expenses directly attributable to the function of the shared data center during the term of the agreement.
“If the city is not willing to enter such an agreement, the county would expect that all city data, functions servers, etc. are removed from the county-owned servers by June 1, 2017. The Board of Supervisors believes the city has received significant benefit from the past arrangement and has failed to contribute finically to the shared data center. Continuing the arrangement as is would not be fair to the taxpayers of rural Winneshiek County or any of the other municipalities within the county,” Steines wrote.
Steines said the supervisors proposed the terms and any negotiation of the terms would need to be approved by them. The city was given a deadline of April 28 to respond with its “intent to resolve this issue.”
If the city does not approve the agreement, it would need its own virtual server, which would cost between $10,000 and $20,000, and other equipment such as firewalls, Internet switches, and routers, Bird said.

Why now?
Council member Dan Bellrichard asked why the city was not billed at the time equipment was purchased.
Logsdon responded the county’s department heads are responsible for submitting invoices to the auditor to be sent out.
“I think a lot got lost in the shuffle,” Logsdon said.
The Board chairman said the IT director the county and city shared at the time, Chopper Albert, could probably provide more information on what transpired. Logsdon also said the supervisors don’t “micromanage” every invoice sent out by the county’s department heads. Albert was hired as the county’s and city’s first shared IT director in 2012. He resigned in July and began working in IT at Iowa Rotocast Plastics.
“Why wasn’t the city included in your votes? You’re approving expenditures for the city,” Johnson said.
“The IT director was supposed to be submitting invoices where they were supposed to go,” Logsdon said.
Bellrichard asked whether the shared equipment expense agreement is part of the 28e agreement the city and county have for the IT director. Bird said it is not and that the city and county essentially have a “gentlemen’s agreement” for equipment.
“We have to take it on face value from the (IT director) how the costs should be allocated,” Bird said.
He said the equipment agreement and many invoices being reviewed date back to 2012 when the Decorah MetroNet was built. The Metronet is a fiber optic infrastructure ring that provides expanded connectivity for its member partners.

Quit sharing
In another IT matter Monday night, the Council discussed a resolution to notify the county of its intent to withdraw from the 28e agreement for sharing an IT director. The city pays 50 percent of the IT director and IT help positions. Bird said that money, about $60,000-$70,000, could be used to hire the city’s own employee.
According to Bird, the 28e makes provisions for sharing IT staff persons only and does not cover existing agreements pertaining to equipment, communications or fiber infrastructure.
“It is staff recommendation that staffing services may be better coordinated and utilized in-house. Also, with the growing demand of a telecommunications commission, ongoing fiber feasibility study and possible fiber networking, it is important to look at developing staff with the knowledge and expertise to take these initiatives in the appropriate direction and to spend the level of time and commitment they each deserve,” Bird said in his background notes to the Council.
Council member Andy Carlson suggested delaying any decisions on the county’s proposed hosting services agreement and withdrawing from the 28e until the full Council is present and members can consult with department heads and the supervisors to see if some issues can be resolved. Council members Chuck Lore and Randy Schissel were not at Monday’s meeting.
“With respect to the agreement we had, if we need to pay a bill, pay it,” Carlson said.
Council member Gary Rustad said the Council’s personnel committee should discuss the matter. He said while he’s leaning toward the city having its own IT director because of future needs, he’d “like to get all the facts.”
Johnson said the money the county is claiming the city owes is “not a legitimate expense. That’s a number drawn out of a hat.”
Bird said the bills in question are between 2012 and 2015 when there were changes in staff. He said he’s willing for the city to pay its fair share but in the future when purchases are made he suggested the split might become 70 percent county and 30 percent city funds. Bird also said purchases should be considered on a case-by-case basis to rectify any kind of wrong doing the county felt from the previous five years.
A motion to table action was approved on a 3-2 vote with Carlson, Bellrichard and Rustad voting in favor of it and Luse and Johnson voting against it.
A personnel committee meeting has not yet been scheduled. Bird said he is planning to meet with Logsdon today, Thursday, to discuss the situation.