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State-of-the-art phone system keeps city departments connected

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Sandra Medrano with the building division uses the new phone system as part of her everyday duties. The new phone system went into use at city hall, the law and justice center, the public works service center and the fire department in October 2003.

Last fall the City of Sunnyside upgraded its phone system from a Centrex system to a state of the art, fiber-optic based system that links everyone from city hall to the public works service center on one system.

Troy Huff, information techology manager for the City of Sunnyside, said the old system, which was last upgraded in early 1997, proved to be a beast when it came to the complexity of the billing system. Huff explained that before the fiber-optic based system was installed each telephone on every desk had its own individual phone line, which meant that the city was paying a fee per line for services like voice mail.

Now city hall, the law and justice center, the fire department and the public works service center are all connected through a central phone and data system, with each location having its own communication center. Huff explained that although each location has its own communication center, city hall and the law and justice center serve as the two primary locations. Having two primary locations means if the communication center at city hall were to fail the telephone system throughout the city would not fail. Instead, all communications would go through the center at the law and justice center, and visa versa.

"We wanted two trunks so if one fails, you can fall back on the other," Huff said.

He said the new phone system functions almost exactly like the old system did, however now users have a lot more functions to choose from and the billing is a lot easier.

Huff explained that with the old system when someone wanted to add a new service to their line, a service call to Sprint would have to be made. Now, with the click of a button a new service can be added to any phone. For example, Huff said if someone wants to add voice mail to their phone line all he has to do is get on the computer and add it for them.

"Now we have the ability to do that ourselves," he added.

He explained that this is possible because the telephone system and the data network throughout the city are now integrated, with both computer information and phone service coming through fiber optic lines.

According to Huff, another change that comes with the new phone system is the ability to use direct inward dial. This means that each of the phone lines in the city has its own phone number, although Huff said phone extensions can also be used.

Huff said before the new phone system went into use in October 2003, there were training classes offered to those who would be using the system. He explained that the classes were held in two hour blocks for a week.

Since the new phone system went into service roughly three months ago, Huff said most of the feedback he has received from people has been positive. Huff did note that there were some adjustments to be made, but most of those had to do with the different features made available on each of the phones.

The new system also means that city hall, the law and justice center, the public works service center and the fire department are now connected. Huff said before the new phone system there was no connection between the data systems used by the different city departments. For example, he explained that now instead of having three or four different email systems there is only one.

Huff said those people calling into city hall or other city departments shouldn't notice a difference between the new system and the old system.

However, Huff did note that the new system does have one interesting quirk. He said when someone from a city department uses the new phone system to call someone with caller id, the phone number that shows up is not connected to anyone's extension in the city. Huff said if someone calls back the number on their caller id, they will find themselves talking to a recording. The recording features information on how to get in touch with various people in the city. Huff said the phone number directs people to general city information.

According to Huff, the cost budgeted for the new phone system was $160,000, with the actual cost of the system coming in at $156,000. Huff said the system was budgeted for in 2003.

Huff said when he started working for the City of Sunnyside in October 2001, city officials had already begun looking into upgrading the phone system. Huff said he started meeting with Sprint representatives on the matter, and by the end of 2002 a request for funding was submitted to city council.

Huff said the new phone system should end up saving the city 40 to 50 percent on its local phone charges.

. Elena Olmstead can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail her at eolmstead@eaglenewspapers.com

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