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County spends big on property tax software upgrade

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved a $1.8 million expenditure for the purchase of software to administrate the county’s property tax system.

The county contracted with Manatron, Inc., a Michigan-based software company that produces property tax programs for state and local governments. The actual purchase price was closer to $1 million with the remainder of the funds dedicated to staff time, support services, equipment purchases and other project elements.

“My radar goes up anytime I see an expenditure between $1 million and $2 million dollars, but I think you’ve made a compelling argument (that the current system needs replacement),” Supervisor Terry Lamphier said during the Dec. 11 board of supervisors meeting.

The county has been allocating money to the Information Technology designation in the general fund for years and had budgeted for the expenditure in the current fiscal year, said County Executive Officer Rick Haffey.

Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan characterized the current system, which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, as outdated and inadequate.

Assessor Sue Horne, who, along with Tax Collector Tina Vernon and Auditor-Controller Marcia Salter, employs the current system in her daily tasks, said the slow pace and inefficiency of the system is the least of everyone’s worries. “The system is at a significant risk of failure,” Horne said. “Not only would this put the entire county revenue system at risk, but it could affect the schools and all the special districts as well.”

Salter said the expenditure was warranted given the antiquated nature of the current system and the importance of the revenue collection system.

“Software is expensive,” Salter said, adding the complexity of the county’s revenue collection demands a reliable and technically sound program that can integrate the tasks of the three financial departments.

The county receives the vast majority of its revenue from property taxes. Simply stated, the assessor appraises the value of a given property, then the auditor-controller determines how much a given property owner should pay according to complex formulas, and the tax collector sends out the bills and manages collection.

Having an efficient program that streamlines processes through the three departments is paramount, Horne said. She added her department has experienced dissatisfaction from members of the public who are unhappy with the time line of receiving their refunds due to them after their property taxes are readjusted to a lower rate.

Those problems will be addressed under the new system, she said.

Manatron Inc. was introduced to California public entities in 2008 when Santa Cruz County became the first public entity to contract with the company, said Santa Cruz County public information officer Melodye Serino.

Santa Cruz County rolled out the new system in September and spent $2.4 million, including staff time and equipment purchase, over the four-year implementation process.

Since the implementation was the company’s first experience with California’s specific rules regarding revenue and taxation for public bodies, there were many modifications to the system that had to be incorporated, Serino said.

“We have had no major problems,” Serino said. “People seem to be very happy with the system.”

Salter said her office will expect to undergo a learning curve to become adept at the new system.

“Still, I believe the system is user-friendly, and after the initial startup, it should be something quick to pick up,” she said.

The implementation of the system will take about a year to 18 months, Horne said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

Matthew Renda
mrenda@theunion.com

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The Union Updated Dec 19, 2012 05:29PM Published Dec 20, 2012 01:50PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.