Crow Wing County approves technology spending, looks for future with fewer employees
Crow Wing County commissioners approved spending $600,000 for a financial management and payroll software designed to upgrade the county’s 20- to 34-year old technology.
The county described the project as facing accounting, budgeting and human resource management in an unpredictable economy with complex reporting standards. All, the county reported, while adapting to an increased accountability to the public and with fewer people and reduced funding.
Initial estimates for the project were for costs of $1.125 million. But Mike Carlson, accounting and finance manager with the auditor-treasurer’s office, reported in recent months, after reviewing multiple vendor proposals, the cost was reduced to $600,000. The county utilized the National Joint Powers Alliance in Staples for contract pricing.
Money will come from the capital projects fund. The new software has an estimated life of more than 10 years. Carlson said it’s expected to take 18 to 24 months to implement the system. Annual support costs for the software is estimated to be $46,000. Existing software support costs are about $34,000.
The county picked Tyler Technologies - Munis Enterprise Resource Planning software. An auditor-treasurer office report noted the search for a better system began about three years ago. Once it is established, the county reported fewer people will be needed because of the “improved electronic organizational workflow” as it “reduces waiting, transportation, defects and underutilized creativity.”
Carlson said the integrated software for financial management, payroll and human resources management will be able to replace seven standalone financial management systems.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said it looks like a huge investment for the county, but there is money in the capital improvement budget to handle it. Carlson’s good work is trying to get the county where it needs to be positioned, Thiede said. A significant part of the equation, Thiede said, comes from the number of employees who will be retiring in the next five to seven years.
“We really need to do some things technologically to make us more efficient and better in what we do,” Thiede said.
Commissioner Paul Koering said even though he doesn’t like to spend money at all, he’s been convinced of the merits of this system.
“I see the need for this system,” Koering said.
He likened it to Wal-Mart with an increasing number of self-checkouts with one employee monitoring a number of stations.
“I believe eventually we will need less employees,” Koering said of the technology improvement to connect departments. “... Which is a good thing in my mind.”
In recent years, the county has gone from about 550 employees to 425.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction as far as the taxpayer is concerned — trying to spend a little money, yes, on technology but in the long run I think it’s going to benefit taxpayers,” Koering said. “It’s going to help this county run better.”
Koering said in addition this system is going to provide the reporting required by the state and he is convinced this is the right thing to do.
“I know Commissioner Koering’s heart is not just in eliminating jobs and I don’t want the message to be that because I don’t think that’s what you meant,” Thiede said.
“No,” Koering replied.
Thiede said it’s a reality of the workforce today. He said expectations are for county employment to shrink.
“I think it can be done in a measured way and this is an investment in that process that doesn’t do damage to our workers and our workforce. We have a lot of great employees that I think we are protecting with this,” Thiede said. “And that’s what we want to do.”