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Ventura County

New Payroll System Would Cost County $12.7 Million

Spending: Despite looming budget cuts, supervisors today will consider a proposal to replace the 20-year-old computer program.

September 24, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors today will consider buying a $12.7-million payroll system to replace an outdated one, even as officials acknowledge that it is a bad time for a costly new purchase.

Programming for the county government's 20-year-old system is so old that it is hard to find people to repair it when it crashes, officials said. But the system being considered, PeopleSoft, based in Pleasanton, Calif., is used by 80% of local governments in California and is considered the gold standard for payroll reporting, Supervisor Steve Bennett said.

Though the county is looking at an additional $10 million in budget cuts in coming weeks, it still makes sense to borrow to buy the system now, Bennett said.

"I really questioned the timing. Does it have to happen now, given how tight our budget is?" Bennett said. "But it takes so long to implement this thing--two or three years--that there is a real question whether our antiquated system can make it much longer."

County officials have been reviewing a replacement system for at least three years. The current one was installed in 1982 and does not have the flexibility to keep track of payroll and personnel information for 8,000 employees, officials said.

PeopleSoft would track pay and benefits and would be integrated with the county's human resources department in a time-saving and cost-efficient way, said Barbara Journet, the county's personnel director. "Right now, we have tons of paper," she said. "Duplicates, triplicates. Much of that will be done online."

Employees also would be able to look up their benefits, vacation time and even change their tax status electronically. As it stands now, the county auditor's office fields most of those questions, wasting valuable time, Auditor Christine Cohen said.

The current system is also riddled with glitches that cause it to "blow up easily," said Cohen, who issues paychecks for all county employees. "When you pay 8,000 people every two weeks, you want to make sure the checks are timely and accurate," she said.

County budget managers are bracing for an additional $10-million budget cut, a loss that could result in the closure of health clinics and the slashing of social service programs for the area's poorest residents.

The proposed reductions come on top of $17 million in cuts ordered by supervisors in June to balance the county's $1.2-billion annual budget. Even with the next round of cuts, more funding losses may be on the way as the state copes with declining revenue, officials said.

One bright spot is the low interest rate, probably less than 1.8%, that the county will pay to borrow nearly $13 million for the system upgrade. The money will be paid back over seven years, in roughly $2-million annual installments.

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