Virginia - County offices go manual, Y2k glitchesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Friday, January 14, 2000
Computer problem makes work taxing
Some offices in Martinsville, Henry County and Montgomery County are doing things the old-fashioned way: by hand.
By SARAH CAGLE
THE ROANOKE TIMES
CHRISTIANSBURG -- When Ellis Meredith was first elected Montgomery County treasurer in 1972, his staff computed tax bills on hand-cranked adding machines.
But Meredith said he's never seen anything like this.
Since July, the treasurer's office has been keeping paper records and using calculators because the new Y2K-compliant tax collection software installed in his office doesn't work properly, Meredith said.
MUNIS, a company from Falmouth, Maine, has a $723,184 contract to provide Montgomery County with computer systems to handle tax assessment and collection, county payroll and accounting, and schools payroll and accounting.
Glitches in the tax assessment and collection system delayed the issuance of real estate and personal property tax bills, forcing the county to extend the payment deadline from Dec. 5 to Jan. 18. Blacksburg and Christiansburg tax bills were not affected.
The treasurer's office is unable to get reimbursements from Richmond for car tax relief. Lawyers can't run title searches to see whether property carries any unpaid taxes. Meredith said he can't even think about collecting delinquent taxes.
And the vendor's delay in getting dog license software to the county means the animal control officers don't have up-to-date license information to track down owners of lost animals.
"I'm collecting manually," Meredith said. "I have waited and I have waited, and I kept being told the change is coming. After so long, you get tired of that."
With other tax deadlines fast approaching, the treasurer is wondering when his 16-member staff will have time to key into the computer all the tax and license payments made since July 1. Auto decals go on sale March 1, and state income tax payments are already starting to roll in.
MUNIS spokesman Ron Goodrow said Thursday the company is working diligently to meet its contract obligations.
"MUNIS is dedicated to the development and deployment of its software products in Montgomery County," Goodrow said. "Every effort is being made to ensure that the product meets the needs of the treasurer and commissioner, as it does in two other Virginia sites."
MUNIS also has installed its software in the treasurer's and commissioner of the revenue's offices in Martinsville and Henry County. The company developed the software for Virginia localities this year for the first time, and Montgomery, Henry and Martinsville were the only ones to sign on with that vendor as part of their Y2K computer upgrade.
Treasurers in Martinsville and Henry County said the MUNIS software wasn't ready in time for them to work out the bugs before tax bills were to be issued. Martinsville had to postpone the due date for personal property taxes by two weeks. Henry County's tax due date remained the same, though the bills were sent out a month late.
Robert Parker, a spokesman for Montgomery County, said that because the three localities were guinea pigs, "we knew we were going to have problems, but we didn't think it would be to this degree or that it would take this long to resolve."
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors has asked county staff for more information about the glitches and has asked its attorney to determine if the county is entitled to collect penalties from the vendor.
The contract calls for damages of $100 per day for every day the software isn't operational, a sum that could grow as high as half the value of the entire contract.
"There is the possibility there has been lost revenue," Parker said. "There is also the possibility that there is no lost revenue." "Of course, everyone wants it resolved as quickly as possible," said Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Mary Biggs.
"I'm sure he's got some good points," Montgomery County Supervisor Jim Politis said of the treasurer's complaints. "But I don't know enough about it yet to get involved."
Meredith said Montgomery County is losing money because of lost productivity and overtime, and also because the county lost an opportunity to begin collecting interest on tax payments in December. The county bought new hardware and software not only to prepare for the year 2000 computer bug, but also to link various county departments so they can share financial information.
For the first time, the county treasurer, the commissioner of the revenue, the county finance department and information management staff use the same program.
A committee that included county staff, the treasurer and the commissioner of the revenue has been working with MUNIS since 1998. Commissioner of the Revenue Nancy Miller has to use a typewriter to send out additional tax assessments because of delays in getting the software installed.
But Miller emphasized it is better to go ahead and use the software to the extent possible.
"I cannot criticize the company," said Miller. "You have to go in and work the system to figure out what works and what doesn't work."
She said she will not manually type out supplemental property assessments for all taxpayers, but she is making some exceptions if the issue is pressing. As new information comes in about the Shelor Automotive Group's inventory, for instance, Miller plans to process new assessments on the typewriter.
Source: The New River Valley Current, Roanoke, Virginia
-- Lee Maloney (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 18, 2000