After much deliberation, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors agreed during a recent workshop on the upcoming fiscal year budget to commit to buying new accounting software for various departments and offices.

The board authorized by consensus during its Feb. 4 session starting the process of submitting a request for proposals for bids from interested firms to replace the software. The county has used the current version since 1989 and an overhaul is desperately needed in the interest of efficiency, County Administrator Dean Rodgers has said.

The line item has been listed in the draft capital improvement plan as $300,000 per year for the next two fiscal years and $200,000 the following year, but exact costs won’t be known until bids come in.

Rodgers said during the workshop it is anticipated the cost of a software vendor the county is considering could exceed $1 million over a three-year span.

The upgrade is the top priority in the $1 million capital plan, which is for projects and county needs that exceed $50,000. The software serves departments of finance, human resources and purchasing, offices of the commissioner of the revenue and treasurer and the Amherst County Public Schools division.

The treasurer’s office maintains all bank accounts affiliated with the county, school system and Amherst County Service Authority. Rodgers said it’s crucial the new software is compatible with all the stakeholders using it.

Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold attended the session and took questions from supervisors about the division possibly sharing in the costs. Arnold said if the division pays toward software its preferred route is to acquire a more school-friendly brand, adding school officials also would work with the county as it comes to decide which route it will take.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern waiting on that decision ...” Arnold said.

A recently formed committee of stakeholders is evaluating the best possible fit to meet the county’s needs across various departments.

“It’s trying to find that solution that works the best for all the entities together,” said Jackie Viar, the county’s director of information technology. “That’s the software committee’s goal.”

Supervisors heavily discussed the software upgrade last year but held off, citing a litany of other pressing needs. Supervisor Jimmy Ayers said during last year’s budget discussions the board needed to focus on county employees’ compensation and retention. The current budget was balanced on cost savings from a switch in health insurance providers, which drew public opposition from some county employees and officers.

The current software is four generations behind where other systems currently are, Stacey Wilkes, director of finance, has said. Wilkes noted the investment the county is preparing for is likely for 30-year period.

Chairwoman Claudia Tucker said the county’s most recent audit showed the software overhaul is needed.

Rodgers said it is expected to take three years to convert the data and the upgrade is anticipated as the top line item in the CIP plan for the next three years. The request for proposals for bids is expected to begin in May, according to Wilkes.

It is hopeful the new software purchase will include the school system, Rodgers said.

“It’s our goal that we’ll all work off the same software,” he said. “If that can’t be achieved or afforded, then all the software we do end up with must communicate fully with each other.”

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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