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County seeks new software purchase

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After a two-year delay, Jefferson County is again moving forward with a plan to spend as much as $1.5 million on new software for its financial operations.

The county had set aside the money in its fund balance in 2010, but debates over spending about $1 million on a new phone system and about the county’s large fund balance derailed the purchase. But after an audit pointed out vulnerabilities in the system, the purchase is back on track.

The New World Systems software, installed in the late 1990s, is inflexible and out of date, according to legislators and other county officials.

“It just is not terribly user-friendly,” said Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing. “It’s served us well. We knew (the replacement) was coming.”

Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, said she has appointed three legislators to serve on an ad hoc committee that will figure out the best way to spend the county’s money.

Mr. Reed will serve on the committee with Legislators Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, and Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown.

The existing software system, which tracks budgets, financial information, accounts and related information, isn’t exactly faulty. It just doesn’t work as well as it could, said Michael E. Kaskan, the deputy county administrator.

“It’s just cumbersome, because the software code was more primitive 14 years ago,” Mr. Kaskan said. “There are better ways of doing business now.”

Mr. Kaskan said just because the county has set aside $1.5 million doesn’t mean it will spend that exact amount. When the ad hoc committee convenes, it will consider specific proposals from companies.

The system was named as one of county government’s weak spots in an outside audit released earlier in August. The county has had to install a patchwork of custom improvements to the system over the years, and if the experts in the IT department leave, county officials might have no idea how to actually run the system, exposing the county to vulnerabilities, the audit found.

Last year, county officials had interviews with six potential software suppliers.

With a new system, Treasurer Karen M. Christie said, department heads could run their own reports, instead of having to bring in information technology employees to navigate the complicated code.

“It’s a bulkier process than I would like to see,” Ms. Christie said.

There appears to be little opposition to the plan and no support for the current system.

“In this day and age, it’s antiquated,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said.

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