The Ugly Truth About Orange County’s Computer Upgrade

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Orange County supervisors got one of the first realistic public assessments Tuesday regarding progress of their controversial property tax software upgrade.

And it’s not a pretty picture.

County officials have spent years working to upgrade their property tax computer software, something no other county in California has been able to achieve. So far there have been numerous delays and cost overruns.

The program cuts across several departments including the auditor-controller’s, the assessor’s, the treasurer-tax collector’s and the clerk of the Board of Supervisors’.

Supervisors have sat through Byzantine explanations and assurances that the project remained on schedule and on budget, even though officials were constantly asking for more time and more money.

The picture became even more clouded last month when the project lost its leader with the departure of Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom.

In the meantime, supervisors asked that its chief information officer, Mahesh Patel, step in.

On Tuesday, Patel offered a uniquely straightforward assessment of the software upgrade and its budget as high as $50 million that was supposed to be finalized this month.

“Obviously, we are behind,” Patel said. “We will not be able to go live in July.”

Patel said the new management team has asked their vendors to make “realistic assumptions.”

That prompted Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who has been critical of the software upgrade known as PTMS, to ask “so the go-live date is December 2013, almost two years from now.”

That means property taxes won’t be transferred to the new system until 2014.

“Realistically? Yes, January 2014,” Patel said.

While that kind of news might draw complaints given past rosy timelines offered to supervisors, Patel’s remarks drew a different reaction.

“Some honesty and candor is helpful,” Nelson said.

Having the county’s chief of information technology rather than a series of independently elected officials heading the project “allows for a more independent perspective,” Patel said.

“I am pleased we have moved our department experts into this project,” said Supervisor Pat Bates. She asked whether Patel’s staff should oversee all computer upgrades costing more than $1 million.

Added Supervisor Janet Nguyen, “You have made it simple. It’s not the best news, but it’s better news.”

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

 

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