Columbia County government's financial operating system can be likened to an electronic quilt, having been pieced together over the years with numerous software patches.
In public meetings and in private conversations, county officials often complain about the Munis software used by such offices at Finance Services, Water Utilities, Development Services and Human Resources.
At least one elected official, Sheriff Clay Whittle, authorized the purchase of the Munis software at the county's request to manage his budgets.
Recently, though, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen refused to follow suit.
"I don't want to wade in those murky waters," she said.
Scheduled to receive the Munis operating system from Tyler Technologies, Allen sought and received permission from commissioners last month to pass on implementing the software.
"I talked to (other tax commissioners) who had been using it -- in one case eight years and in another case four years -- and they were still not happy with the product," she said.
"In the latter case, the tax commissioner could not get liens filed on delinquent accounts because of something wrong with Munis."
Earlier this year, Finance Services mailed out several checks without the bank account and routing numbers printed on them because of a bug in the Munis software.
Those are two examples of what officials say is a widespread problem.
"The problem was with the updates in that a lot of things that worked in the previous version suddenly no longer worked," Finance Services Director Leanne Reece said. "Or things we'd fix in the test system before we went live for some reason didn't stay fixed."
The software glitches were the price the county paid in exchange for lower costs on software and services as an early adopter for Munis upgrades.
"The problem with (being an early adopter) is that the products they came out with did not have all the bugs worked out," Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson said. "They were using us like a guinea pig."
Dealing with the continual software problems eventually became too much, Johnson said.
"I just got to the point where I said, 'No more,' " he said.
About three months ago, officials removed the county from the early adopter program and budgeted more funds for software fixes, computer support and disaster recovery.
This year, commissioners budgeted $210,000 for services from Tyler Technologies, which sells the Munis system. In previous years, the county budgeted about $150,000 for similar services.
Tyler Technologies also worked out an action plan to squash the county's computer bugs, and Johnson discusses the plan's progress each Tuesday with Tyler executives.
"Tyler and Columbia County staff worked side-by-side during the latest Munis release, and while some technical issues arose, they have been resolved," said Richard E. Peterson Jr., president of Tyler's ERP and School Divisions, through a publicist. "We are squarely focused on supporting Columbia County's goal of providing high quality and convenient services to its citizens, and we believe that Munis is an excellent platform for achieving that goal."
Despite the flaws, Reece said she still prefers the new operating system to what she had before switching to Munis in 2007.
"Our old software was not Windows-based," she said. "It was the old green screen operating system. ... You had to use function keys to operate it."
Reece said Munis more easily allows her and her staff to organize and locate financial data.
"It does give us better reports than we got with our old system and more flexibility for (handling) those reports."
Once it's shed of bugs, Reece believes Munis will be worth the more than $2 million the county paid for it.
Allen, however, believes reliability should take precedence over ease of use.
The Tax Commissioner's office uses an operating system developed specifically for it in the 1980s, making it ancient in the fast-paced world of computers.
"It's like a workhorse," Allen said of her operating system. "It might not be the sleekest, fastest horse in the paddock, but it is proven. ... That's what I want: reliable."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.