Sebastian County computer system raises eyebrows

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 125 views 

story by Aric Mitchell
[email protected]

Enterprise Software integration continues to face questions and concerns from Sebastian County quorum court members, and those questions and concerns were on display at Thursday night’s special meeting, where many were still trying to cope with the added expenses.

In April, when the court agreed to move forward, citing common agreement that the county’s systems, especially in the Sheriff’s Office, were in need of an overhaul, a price tag of $1 million was expected.

By the time a proposal reached the quorum court, the number had risen to $1.8 million— $300,000 for new hardware and $1.5 million for software and implementation. Along with the heftier expense, funding the technology staff will cost approximately $133,000 more (at $419,400) on an annual basis than the current amount. Maintenance fees to New World Systems, the proposed contractor, would run another $200,000 annually against $50,000 for the current system.

“We’ve seen this proposal and voted it down twice before, and from the numbers, nothing has changed,” court member Shawn Looper said.

New World representative Ken Peters was in attendance and said there were around $800,000 in discounts included in the proposal.

“I’ve never seen a price this good for this much. We think it’s an extremely fair price, and it’s going to get you from beginning to end in 18 months,” Peters said.

Sebastian County Judge David Hudson said seven of 13 members are now interested in moving forward. Still, the expenditure will require a two-thirds majority to move ahead, numbers that didn’t exist at the October meeting. When asked why the New World proposal was the only one that had come before the court, Hudson responded that there were talks, which never panned out, with a few other companies. But ultimately, it was New World’s system that won the confidence of the elected officials and ultimately “met their needs,” Hudson said.

However, court member Linda Murry said the system does not meet every need. According to literature provided from the Judge’s Office, the software will not be as all encompassing as court members had originally thought.

“The iSeries hardware platform (current system) will continue to support website, e-mail and calendaring, imaging and jury operations while the new software is being installed and brought online,” the county literature states. “Over time each of these areas will be evaluated for phasing out or modification. However, ongoing operations require these systems to be maintained.”

Murry, Looper, and others, who have expressed concern about the proposal, are not denying the systems need to be overhauled, but they are in disagreement with how the process has been handled thus far.

“We needed to have been given options. That’s what I think would have been best. We only saw one bid (the New World), and tonight was the first cost breakdown we’ve actually seen,” Murry told The City Wire. “If we had been included from the beginning, then a request for this much may have made more sense.”

Murry noted that Benton and Washington Counties were used as the templates when they are “one and a half to two times our size.”

Murry continued: “Washington County has around 1,375 employees. We have about 350. We should be looking to some of the smaller counties — the ones that don’t have $2 million to spare — to see how they’re handling system upgrades.”