How big is an 80-inch television destined for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s conference room?
At 6 feet wide and just under 4 inches deep, it’s the second-largest LED television sold by Sharp Electronics. It will dwarf the largest flat-screen televisions at many local bars.
But this TV isn’t for watching the game. The plan is to use it for videoconferencing.
“It’s going to be used for widespread communications for all county officials,” said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz. “We want to have it available to any commissioner or department head that needs to confer with downstate counterparts or needs technology to update training certifications, things like that. In that sense, it’s going to save a ton of travel time.”
County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who has flagged the $4,629 bill for the television, a stand and speakers for further review, questioned the need for an 80-inch television when some businesses manage with 40- or 50-inch models.
“Videoconferencing is a wonderful idea,” Mychajliw said. “We questioned the manner in which this 80-inch, $4,000 television was purchased.”
A deputy comptroller in Mychajliw’s office Tuesday notified Poloncarz’s director of purchasing that the office won’t pay the Best Buy bill until it gets answers to several questions, including why invoices describe the television purchase as a “rush order” placed in December.
“Is an 80” big screen television the only model that could be used for videoconferencing?” Deputy Comptroller Teresa Fraas wrote in the letter. “Why not use a smaller and cheaper model that is a mere fraction of the price?”
Anderson said the administration will formally respond to the comptroller’s questions to explain the purchase, but he noted that other public agencies such as Empire State Development have videoconferencing capabilities.
“There are a lot of state agencies and businesses that do teleconferencing that have that size screen in order to do split screen or conferences in multiple locations,” Anderson said. “When you have the bigger screen, you can see the whole room.”
A call to Empire State Development’s Buffalo office Tuesday confirmed that its videoconferencing television – used for connecting board members during meetings, providing pitches to prospective businesses and training state employees – measures 55 inches.
Why the rush order? Two reasons, said Deputy Budget Director Timothy Callan. First, the county executive told his staff that creating better videoconferencing capabilities was a priority after the county lost its telecommunications connection to its emergency operations center for more than an hour during Superstorm Sandy.
Second, the county wanted to get the order in before a routine year-end spending freeze took place in late December.
The county maintains secure videoconferencing capabilities at its emergency operations center in Cheektowaga and the health operations center in Buffalo.
But Poloncarz, in a memo to legislators and other county lawmakers, said the new equipment will “enable instant communication, presentations and sensitive information sharing” between county, federal and state officials in emergency and routine situations.
“Maintaining a capability in the Rath Building will allow county officials a redundant backup and convenient communications system,” Poloncarz wrote.
The television isn’t a large expense in the county’s $1.3 billion budget. But the size of the equipment stands out even among local bars and restaurants.
It will be bigger than the 22 televisions at Bada Bing Sports Bar & Grill on Chippewa Street. It will rival the largest high-definition TV at Advantage Co.’s HD video conference room at Giancarlo’s in Amherst. But it won’t be as big as the four 103-inch plasma screens at Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More.
Ray Schmaltz, a customer service representative for Stereo Advantage in Amherst, said Sharp is one of the few electronics manufacturers that makes LED televisions as large as 70 to 90 inches.
Those sizes, particularly the 70-inch model, are often purchased by homeowners who want to replace projectors in a home theater. Offices, he said, will buy large-screen televisions for presentations.