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Software to save county money

COVINGTON - The Newton County Planning and Development Department is changing software vendors and saving the county money in the process.

By switching from current vendor Accela to the Magnet software program supplied by Computer Systems Inc. (CSI), the county will save between $500,000 and $1 million over the next five years.

The county has been contracted with Accela for the past six years and has experienced numerous problems with its software, according to Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin.

With the contract set to expire June 30, Sirotkin requested the board approve a new five-year contract with CSI for the Magnet program, which he said was "a better product at a better price."

"It would have cost us an estimated $1.3 million to renew with Accela for five years and also have them do the necessary work to correct the problems we've had with the system. We also had the option of just renewing for five years and using the system as is, which would have cost an estimated $764,500," Sirotkin said.

In contrast, a five-year contract with CSI, including the cost to purchase two new servers, will run just $271,650.

"Well, that appears to be a no-brainer," District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said after hearing the two prices.

The board unanimously approved the new contract.

CSI is willing to start implementing the software immediately with a $15,000 down payment, Sirotkin said.

The down payment will come from the department's current budget, with the bulk of the remaining cost to be spent in 2010.

The Planning and Zoning Department first approached commissioners about changing software vendors in February, but postponed the request until amendments to the current budget were complete.

Because of that delay, even with CSI beginning work right away, the department will be operating without software for a short time.

"During this time staff will do everything we can to make such an arrangement workable in the short term, but the longer the timeframe, the more the chance for problems to arise. It is also important to move forward with the new software as soon as possible to minimize the time the Department will be operating without a system and to take advantage of our current Accela contract which will assist in the transition from the old system and conversion of existing data to the new system," Sirotkin said in a letter to the board explaining why the new contract should be approved immediately.

The new software program will allow citizens to check on the status of permits and business licenses, something the public has been requesting for a long time, he said.

The new software will be implemented in phases, with code enforcement being converted first. The first phase should take between three and five months, with other sections of the department to be converted beginning in the fall, Sirotkin said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.