Loudoun's Board of Supervisors approved Wednesday night a nearly $10 million expenditure that includes hiring several new technology positions to implement and manage a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) management system that will keep track of taxes, assessments and human resources.
The board's finance committee has studied the issue for months and, at times, questioned whether there was a lack of communication or miscues on the part of county staff. The implementation of the new system has caused headaches for some department heads trying to evaluate their budgets.
After additional needs and resources unforeseen by county staff came to light earlier this year, the overall cost of the ERP ballooned.
Included in the supervisors' approval Wednesday was the allowance of the following budget adjustments: $1.7 million expense for the Phase 1 of the ERP project requirements; $342,000 for six positions in the Department of Management and Financial Services and $63,00 for one position in the Department of Information Technology for ongoing operational, maintenance and technical support of the various modules implemented in Phase 1 of ERP as well modules to be implemented in Phases 2 and 3 of ERP; $445,000 for Phase 2 start-up activities; and $7 million in an ERP Implementation Contingency account, the funds of which may only be released after review and approval of the finance committee.
Loudoun County Commissioner of the Revenue Bob Wertz, who sat on a steering committee examining the ERP, said the project has been a lesson in resourcing.
“County staff sometimes takes things on and just continues to take them on even though we may not have proper staffing in place – they think they can do more and more and more,” Wertz said. “Well, that's not the case, and I think this project has shown that we really do need the staff if we're going to do this properly.”
Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), a member of the finance committee, asked what the public benefit is of the new ERP system.
"To have us spend this kind of money potentially out of the fund balance, which is really the taxpayers' dollars, you know, it really killed me,” Reid said during a Nov. 25 committee meeting.
According to a county report, the ERP will “support the growth and complex business needs of Loudoun for the next 20 years.”
"It will provide both the county and schools with an operations and business system that is full-integrated, web-based and centralized,” the report states. “ … A full-integrated system provides the ability to link positions with salary, benefits and non-personnel for a more holistic review of operations and costs … this provides for a better basis for decision-making by staff and leadership.”
Providing his take on why the systems overhaul is necessary, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), another member of the finance committee, said it's a matter of bringing the county's records into the 21st century.
"We aren't doing this to save money … It's being done because we have a 25-year-old system,” Letourneau said Nov. 25. “Just as you don't drive a 25-year-old car … particularly when it comes to technology you don't use a 25-year-old phone because they didn't have cellphones back then. At some point in time you just have to pony up and upgrade your system. I think this has been a tough one because it's so expensive. I also understand that other jurisdictions that have undergone this sort of process have run into similar issues.”
County government and Loudoun County Public Schools began implementation of the new enterprise resource planning system in January 2012 as part of a comprehensive program to replace three core financial systems.
Also included in the nearly $10 million were funds for consulting to help with the operation and jump-starting of the ERP system.
“The whole point is that we continue to lack sufficient resources for both the final implementation, operation of Phase 1 from the beginning, and the implementation of Phase 2, and one of the ways we're trying to close out Phase 1 is with some additional temporary resources,” said county finance officer Ben Mays
Commented Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), chairman of the finance committee: “This is a very complex item that I could literally talk about for hours.”