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Faulty computer comes up short
By Trent Seibert
Denver Post Staff Writer
March 6 - ADAMS COUNTY - A new $400,000 computer system that tallies the county's taxes and distributes money to school districts and fire departments has been so faulty that at least one school system was shorted over $1 million.
"It's concerning," County Commissioner Marty Flaum said. "We come out of Y2K without a scratch, and now this happens."
The flawed computer system was purchased in December 1997 from CPS Systems, a Dallas-based company that has since been de-listed from the American Stock Exchange because of its bleak financial condition and that filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy Jan. 19.
Its computers and software have caused so many problems for Adams County that the county's computer staff is scrambling to find other companies that can bid for the job in case the company is dissolved.
Hiring a new company to overhaul the system could cost as much as $200,000, according to one county estimate.
"We have to be ready," Flaum said.
Douglas County purchased the same computer system from CPS Systems and is readying a plan to jump back to the county's old computer system if needed, said Douglas County Treasurer Marilyn Green.
The most dramatic flaw in the Adams County computer system was highlighted when the already cash-strapped Mapleton School District received $1.5 million less than it was supposed to last year and several fire companies failed to receive the county tax money they had planned on as well, school and fire officials confirmed last week.
Adams County Treasurer Helen Hill, who oversees the computer system, did not warn the schools and fire departments that they could have been missing the funds they need so badly.
Mapleton Chief Financial Officer Don Herman said he had to contact the county when the million-dollar mistake was discovered. The fire districts also had to contact the county.
"It can cause problems," said accountant Robert Feis, auditor for the Greater Brighton Fire Protection District, who discovered that the fire department's numbers were not adding up.
The county has had to pay out additional costs because of the new computer system.
So far, the county has paid $13,000 to auditor Clifton Gunderson LLC for the extra work done in balancing the county's books, according to county records. That kind of extra auditing was not needed under the county's old computer system.
Hill, who overruled the county's computer staff to purchase the computer system, according to county documents, said the computer system has caused only minor glitches. She also said human error may have been the culprit.
In the case of the Mapleton school district, the error was quickly corrected, Hill said.
The money, which should have been received by mid-June, was replaced Sept. 9, according to school officials. The delay had no consequences to the running of the school system, officials said.
And auditor Feis said the Greater Brighton Fire District was shorted only $2,000. That money, along with money to other fire districts, was replaced by the county this year, he said. "We acted promptly as soon as we discovered the problems," Hill said. "I can't do better than that." Hill said all of the schools and fire departments are now getting what they are supposed to. "Those problems have all been corrected," she said. Soon after the county began to install the computers in the beginning of 1998, CPS Systems became the target of complaints from counties in California and Illinois, who said they've had similar flaws in their computer systems or problems with the company.
"There are glitches we are working out," said Green, Douglas County's treasurer. CPS Systems President James Hoofard Jr. did not return a call seeking comment. Both Douglas and Adams treasurers said at the time they bought the computers and software, they had no idea the company would be in such trouble. Indeed, the company had a good reputation with counties they had sold systems to in Texas and Florida, they said.
"Do you have a crystal ball?" Hill asked.
Both officials said CPS experts continue to help fix the computers.
That could end soon. Unless the company is purchased, federal bankruptcy court will be forced to sell off CPS Systems' assets. At least one company has expressed interest in buying CPS, but any deal must be approved by the court. "I'm just hoping whoever buys it doesn't scrap it," Green said. Douglas County isn't quite in the same shape as Adams County.
Douglas County has not sent the wrong amounts of money to its schools or fire departments because while Douglas County Treasurer Green switched to the new system, she kept her old tax computer system running.
By doing so, Green's treasury officials were alerted to differences in the end-of-the-month balance sheets.
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