Government Technology

San Juan County, N.M., Needs $2 Million to Upgrade Software

August 12, 2014 By Dan Schwartz, McClatchy New Service

San Juan County, N.M.'s business management software is out of date and could cost $2 million to update, but the county's commission chairman says an upgrade will have to wait.

"We have to stay with what we have," Chairman Jack Fortner said, "because there's not $2 million anywhere at this time."

The mainframe software manages county finances, human resources, pay roll, purchasing and most other county business actions.

Consultants are examining how dire a replacement is needed and the cost to replace or upgrade the current system.

Chief Operations Officer Mike Stark said $2 million to get new software is an upper-end estimate.

The software is expiring as the county attempts to cope with projected revenue losses and county commissioners decide whether to cut services or raise taxes.

County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter calls the situation a "perfect storm."

"Everything's hitting us at once," he said.

The county is losing an estimated $1 million in tax revenue from the sale of Navajo Mine to the Navajo Nation and the closure of three coal-burning units at Four Corners Plant.

Losses in coal sales and general receipts taxes also hurts the county's budget.

The county could lose $2.2 million a year if a federal program ends that compensates the county for lost taxes due to large clutches of federal land in the county.

The county expects to lose money as the state phases out "hold harmless" payments that compensated for a tax exemption lawmakers passed for food and medicine.

The county is losing money as it struggles to pay $3 million to the state-mandated Safety Net Care Pool, a fund that pays a percentage of health-care providers' medical bills for services delivered to uninsured county residents. This is the "toughest battle," Carpenter said.

"And it's been a real challenge — we've got capital needs that don't go away," he said, which include sheriff's office vehicles, road graders and, as of recently, new mainframe software.

Fortner said about half of the constituents he's spoken with tell him he should vote to raise taxes, even if the raise is only temporary. The other half tell him he should cut services because government is too big, he said.

"My response is I agree with that on the federal level, but I don't really think that's the case on the local level," he said.

Many variables are uncertain, he said, and tax increases could be passed with expiration dates. He said he'd support a tax increase if it had a sunset clause.

©2014 The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.)

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