Utilitarian: City launches CityLink

Close to 50 people– many of them city employees– spent their Fourth of July weekend making sure Charlottesville's oft-controversial new computer system would be ready for public scrutiny July 5.

City Manager Gary O'Connell and a City Council Chamber full of weary city and E.A. Consulting employees celebrated the launch of Phase 1 of CityLink, the system that's supposed to bring Charlottesville's 160 different computer systems, many of them obsolete, into the 21st century.

"We couldn't afford not to move forward with CityLink," says O'Connell.

Critics contend the city couldn't afford the system's $6.6 million price tag and that the system was designed more for a city the size of Washington– and that it doesn't fully integrate all city services, such as school scheduling.

"There's a lot it doesn't do," says UVA prof John Pfaltz.

City residents will see their new higher utility rates– up 13 percent last month for gas alone– presented on a new utility bill starting July 14. By October, they can pay those bills by direct debits from their bank accounts.

Customers want the same services they can get online in the private sector, say city officials. For instance, Pfaltz wonders why annual trash decals can't be purchased by credit card.

City Treasurer Jennifer Brown says that should happen in Phase 3 in January 2006. Same for payment of real estate taxes, says O'Connell.

As for paying parking tickets online, "We have to go through and see what we can accomplish," he notes.

The same day City Manager Gary O'Connell announces CityLink is live, a nasty afternoon thunderstorm July 5 takes the system down.