The iPad craze has hit some Grand Strand governments.
Horry County and North Myrtle Beach councils already are using them, and Myrtle Beach is considering jumping on the bandwagon.
Proponents say the trendy gadget helps governments save money by not having to make copies of documents for each council member to use during their meetings and makes it easier for them to access information and email. Myrtle Beach council members agree, but some said they want to make sure the city would save on paper costs before investing in them.
The Myrtle Beach City Council talked Friday during the last day of its annual budget retreat about the pros and cons of buying iPads, an expense that would be rolled into the 2011-12 budget being considered. City Manager Tom Leath estimated each iPad, with a cover, would cost between $600 and $650.
"You wouldn't have to have all this," Mayor John Rhodes said, picking up a large notebook filled with budget documents the council used during its three-day budget retreat at the Wampee Conference Center. "It's a lot of advantages there."
Horry County and North Myrtle Beach councils have been testing the iPads, and officials say they've worked well so far, though neither government has yet started sending all the meeting agenda documents electronically. North Myrtle Beach is waiting for the department heads to get theirs in the next month before sending agenda packets that way, North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said.
Horry County, which has been using them for about six months, bought 41 iPads for council members, senior staff and workers in the Information Technology department, with each one costing $680 and $15 a month for a data plan, county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.
The county trained council members and employees on the iPads and plans to send all information for the council's April 19 meeting via iPad, Councilman Bob Grabowski said.
"It's a better way to index the information we get and save it," he said. "I can see it as a huge advantage and, overall, it is a cost savings for the county."
Councilman Brent Schulz also raved about the new tool.
"These are a lot lighter and a lot faster [than a laptop]," he said.
North Myrtle Beach spent $12,062 on 20 iPads for the city council and some city employees, with the first ones arriving in the past couple of weeks and the last eight expected to be here May 15, Dowling said in an email.
Nearly all, 18, of the iPads are the 3G version, which will cost the city $25 a month each for a network connection, he said.
North Myrtle Beach bought the gadgets aiming to save the time and money spent compiling agenda packets, for better communication and to have an easily mobile way to work, Dowling said.
The city's Finance Department plans to use them on the beach when they audit the city's Beach Services Division concession sales, he said.
"I think they have gone over well," Dowling said via email. "It makes it a lot easier for all concerned to be able to access shared information at a moment's notice, as opposed to having to go somewhere to retrieve hard copy materials from an office or home filing system, or to lug them to meetings."
There could be some challenges with iPads, though. It's not as easy to flip back and forth through several pages on an iPad as it is using paper documents, said Leath, who let council members test his personal iPad during the discussion about them Friday.
For some, it was their first time using one.
"How do you turn it off?" asked councilman Randal Wallace, who said he wants more information before deciding whether the city should buy them.
Some Myrtle Beach council members said it's worth trying iPads, while others want to see specifics on how much the city might save on copies before spending the money to buy them.
"I want to see some definitive numbers," said City Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means, who got Leath's iPad to play "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones as the council discussed the idea. "I don't want it just for my convenience."
Councilman Michael Chestnut is ready to try them out, saying it will be more efficient. The cost isn't a problem because the city would buy the basic model iPad and not one of the upgraded ones, he said.
"If we start talking about the Cadillac of iPads, then yeah [cost would be a concern]," Chestnut said. "But we are talking about the Volkswagen of iPads."
Councilman Wayne Gray, who has watched workers in his office use iPads, said iPads would help the council avoid making copies of the same documents over and over each time the same item is on a council agenda.
For example, ordinances require two votes at separate meetings for approval, so council members get the paperwork twice.
"I've just seen how convenient it is," Gray said. "It's worth a try."
Staff reporter Brad Dickerson contributed to this report.