City spends $400,000 to add to stable of computers|[01/04/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2008

Vicksburg has gone software shopping again, this time for an internal accounting system costing about $400,000.

Essential operations including budgeting, payroll, purchasing and accounting all play together in the computer program that “went live” Thursday. Employees say it will streamline the day-to-day processes involved in running the city, and could even curb excess spending.

It follows on the heels of a $102,000 purchase in November of software to better track employee work hours and the earlier purchase of a $180,000 system to track deterioration of city streets.

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The accounting system, called MUNIS, incorporates diverse record-keeping operations. In recent years it has been adopted by the cities of Biloxi, Southaven, Tupelo, Pascagoula and Gulfport. Installation took place in June, said Billy Gordon, the city technician overseeing the new system’s introduction, and employees have attended training sessions through the fall.

Thursday, the first purchases made by city employees were sent through a new requisition process that puts more accountability in the hands of department supervisors, while allowing them to better monitor their discretionary funds that get smaller with every purchase.

“It’s going good. We’ve hit a few roadblocks, but nothing we haven’t gotten over before,” Gordon said Thursday.

Becky St. Cyr, project manager from Tyler Technologies, MUNIS’s developer, said the system is designed specifically for public entities, counties, school systems and law enforcement agencies that use fund-based accounting systems.

The switch to MUNIS changes the purchasing system used by the city, and purchasing director Tim Smith said the new process could streamline the process and encourage wiser spending by department heads. A main feature is merging the process of spending money immediately with budget information.

Department heads will now sign requisition forms for city purchases, and will be able to access information about their budget.

Under the old system, requests were phoned to the purchasing department, who gave the requestor an invoice number. Phone calls were often made from a store, Smith said.

The system can be accessed through the Internet, meaning requisition forms can be sent via e-mail and Paul Rogers, the city’s strategic planner, and others can access budget information from home or when out of town.

Budget data for the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, through January was sent to the company to be input as data. Rogers said the system will allow him to display unencumbered money in various city funds when making budget decisions.

The payroll system will be the next to switch over to MUNIS, in early April.

“We’re hoping to keep the total cost under $400,000” Rogers said of the price, which includes a server, installation and training, and more than $150,000 for the software. Rogers said the final cost of the project is still undetermined, since some costs related to installation and training are not fixed. In-house services could reduce the cost of training by $75,000 on a project tagged initially at about $408,000, Rogers said, projecting a real cost around $330,000.

When unveiled, the $102,000 computerized time clock system was touted as an expense saver. Its features include allowing managers to check which employees are at work and which are not logged in from their computer terminals. Payroll for more than 600 employees is more than half of the city’s $30 million budget.

The $180,000 road condition software was purchased to eliminate “politics” from decisions on which streets have priority for work. Employees input measurements and data on traffic and wear and the computer generates a list of which should be fixed first. A total of $6.7 million from a $16.9 million bond issue last fall is designated for city street work.