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Marshall city, MMU plan for separate IT systems

MARSHALL — Computer systems are crucial for both the city of Marshall and its municipal utilities, and the two organizations have shared some of the same systems for a long time, said Marshall Municipal Utilities general manager Brad Roos. However, it’s gotten to the point where the city and the utility need different things from their Information Technology systems, and want to go separate ways.

“Quite frankly, MMU has thought this day was going to come,” Roos said, during a meeting of MMU’s organization committee on Monday. The utility grid needs more computer security than the city does, and MMU and city staff are planning to separate their IT systems, he said.

The discussion was part of a meeting of city officials and staff, and MMU Commission members and MMU staff, to update the partnership agreement between the city and MMU. The agreement is updated annually, and will go before the Marshall City Council next week for approval.

Roos said the separation of the city and utility’s IT systems was the biggest change in the partnership agreement for 2020.

The partnership agreement covers a dozen individual agreements governing how the city and MMU work together. The agreements range from how the city and MMU will engineer water main projects, to how they will provide street lights and maintain fire hydrants.

One of the individual agreements calculates MMU’s payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) for property taxes, based on a five-year average of annual kilowatt hour electric sales. Counting both PILOT and industrial land development PILOT, MMU’s maximum payment to the city for 2020 would be about $1.3 million, the agreement said.

But Roos said the major change to the partnership will be separating the city and MMU’s IT systems. MMU needs to meet national standards for reliability and cybersecurity, to help prevent “bad guys” from disrupting the country’s electrical grid, he said.

“Utilities are targets that they go after with more and more frequency,” Roos said. “In general, IT has gotten more complicated, the more connected we’ve gotten with the world.”

Roos said the city doesn’t have the same kinds of IT needs as MMU does, and plans to set up its own IT system.

“The timing of this really works out well,” said Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson. Marshall city offices will be moving to temporary space in December, and then later into renovated city offices where a separate IT system could be set up.

Under to the proposed partnership agreement, the city would hire a consultant to create a transition plan to a new IT system, and purchase equipment for it. Until the transition is complete, the city and MMU will continue to share hardware like servers, and the city fiber optic system.

“We’re not giving up the entire system,” Hanson said.

They will also share IT operating costs until the city has fully switched over to its own system.

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