Supervisors asked for $83,365 to finish late software project

Supervisors likely to approve the new contract, reluctantly

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors are being asked to spend nearly $85,000 to finish a computer project that’s already almost a year behind schedule.

Linn and Polk counties hired Michigan-based Manatron in fall 2010 to upgrade their county treasurers’ property tax software to allow online access to complete tax information. The project’s initial deadline was last September.

The two counties also hired the same project manager, Premis Consulting of Chicago. Phil Lowder, Linn County’s information technology director, told supervisors Monday that the project’s delays have outrun Premis’ original contract.

Supervisors will vote Wednesday on an $83,365 contract extension to keep Premis on the job through March 1. Lowder doesn’t know whether the project will be finished by then.

“Until the software manufacturer comes back to us with a go-live date within their schedule, we just don’t know,” he said.

“We’re probably pushing toward the end of December, but we’re more likely to push into early next year,” county Treasurer Sharon Gonzalez said. “If it takes a month or two or three more, let’s take the time and do it right when we do make the change.”

Linn County’s share of the software project is $1,162,896. Lowder said Premis’ new contract is the first added expense the county has incurred during the delay.

Supervisors appear likely to approve the new contract, reluctantly.

“I guess I’d lean that way but I’m really frustrated,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, R-Marion. “My entire term has been plagued with these IT issues. It gets a little tiresome.”

“We’re just between a rock and a hard place,” said Supervisor Lu Barron, R-Cedar Rapids. “We’ve had a lot of broken promises, but we need that project completed.”

Manatron is now part of the accounting and tax division of Thompson Reuters after the media conglomerate bought the software firm about a year ago. Thompson Reuters couldn’t provide a comment on the county’s project Monday.

Lowder said the project’s data conversion process proved more complex and time-consuming than expected, and even the mortgage bubble played a role. The software must assign each parcel in the county its property class, value and tax rates for its city or township and school district, including its history as well as current information.

“It’s labor-intensive,” he said. “Not only are we dealing with the current year, but we have to have that history.”

Work on the Iowa counties’ upgrades came to a virtual halt as the mortgage-foreclosure wave swept California, Lowder said.

“They had to shift all of their resources to doing those (state) code changes for the state of California,” he said. “They essentially shut down all of their engineering and put them on that.”

Polk County Treasurer Mary Maloney said her office’s new online portal should be live around Thanksgiving.

“Manatron, when they came in, was probably optimistic,” she said. “When you have a project like this the usual sticking point is the data conversion, and if you have an issue there it can really slow things down.”

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