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Utah strives to take sting out of Y2K

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Utah state government may be in better shape than many other states when computer clocks click the year 2000 in 17 months, but a lot could still go wrong, and millions of dollars must be spent to ensure there won't be a loud crash come Jan. 1, 2000.

Legislative leaders were told during their July meetings that some state departments are doing well in their year 2000 computer planning - now called the "Y2K" problem.Jonathan Ball of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst Office told the Executive Appropriations Committee that while some state agencies, like the Tax Commission, are well on their way to updating or replacing "mission critical" computer systems, some higher ed-u-ca-tion institutions have a way to go.

And no one really knows how hard local grade schools may be hit.

There are 40,000 personal computers in grade schools across the state. Most are pre-1996 models, sensitive to the centennial date change.

The computers standing alone shouldn't be a problem. Students should still be able to write a report and print it out on a computer in the lab or in the school library.

But PCs that are linked up to networks could be in trouble. The good news is that a simple chip replacement in those models should cure any problems.

The bad news is the 40,000 chips and the time it takes to find out if they need a change, and then making the change.

And, said Dave Fletcher, deputy director of the Department of Administrative Services and the state coordinator for the year 2000 changeover, in some cases state technology officials will just have to wait until Jan. 1 to see what happens - the systems can be modified but they really can't be tested before the actual drop-dead date.

Fletcher said state officials are working on 600 computer systems. Many, if not most, of the "critical" systems are well on their way to being replaced and/or reprogrammed.

Just how much it is going to cost the state, however, is another matter. In less than a year, one estimate has doubled.

Ball said as of today, it looks like it will cost the state around $7 million to work over its computers. That's a low figure, he said, as some state agencies and universities haven't completed their inventory checks.

But Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, D-Granite, an IBM executive, said the $7 million number is not just low, it's very low. Howell said the state of California over the past year has doubled the amount it will spend in new hardware updates.

Ball passed out a chart that showed that while Utah may be spending $7 million more on the Y2K problem, Wyoming is planning to spend $15 million and Idaho $16 million. In comparison, New York is spending $250 mil-lion.

Legislative leaders asked for an update in October. They're worried about the costs at some of the state's universities, although higher education deputy commission Fred Hunsaker said things there are under control.