The cost of bringing Loudoun County’s computerized financial management systems into the 21st century continues to mount.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously June 23 to reassign the trouble-plagued project from AST, the company that had been contracted to do the upgrade, to Oracle America. The board also pumped almost $4.8 million into the project, pushing the total cost above $46 million — nearly twice the initial budget of $25 million.
The board accepted a settlement offer from AST rather than pursue legal action against the company, which had missed several deadlines to complete the upgrade. Under the settlement, AST agreed to allow Oracle to complete the project. AST will also return about $4 million to the county, and Loudoun will keep $1 million in payments it had withheld.
The money to be refunded will not, however, be enough to cover the costs of completing the project, according to a county staff report. The board accepted the staff’s recommendation to add $4.8 million to cover the anticipated payments to Oracle.
When Loudoun embarked on the process of upgrading its financial management programs in 2009, it set aside $25 million in the fiscal 2010 budget to replace the systems that handle processes such as accounting, purchasing, personnel, payroll and benefits. County officials said at the time that those systems were more than 20 years old.
Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said in an interview that the financial systems need to be brought “into the new century.”
“Every other county in Northern Virginia has a system that is automated and not antiquated,” Randall said.
“We need to finish this project so we can catch up, not just to this century, but the last century,” H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R), longtime county treasurer, said in an interview. “Everything is still done on paper,” he said, referring to the timesheets used to calculate paychecks.
Some phases of the project have been completed, including conversion to new accounting and purchasing systems. But upgrades to the personnel, payroll and benefits systems have been plagued by missed deadlines and mounting costs.
Zurn said that converting those systems is challenging because they are used by both the county government and school system, which handle payroll and benefits differently. For example, school employees may have either nine-month or 12-month contracts, and calculation of overtime and benefits for public safety employees can be complicated, he said.
“It’s not ‘one size fits all,’ ” Zurn said.
Pressure to complete the project has been mounting since 2013, when the Board of Supervisors voted to add seven full-time staff positions and $9.4 million — bringing the total price tag to $41.4 million — in an effort to complete the project by March 2015. The mounting costs prompted Zurn, who has been closely following the county’s finances since 1990, to call the cost overruns “totally unprecedented” in Loudoun.
The deadline for completing the upgrade was pushed back several times last year. In September, project manager Vince Marchesano informed the board’s finance committee that a major test of the system had failed, and that the fall deadline would not be met.
In November, Marchesano told the committee that AST was in “material breach” of its contract. The county notified AST that the project was being placed on hold until “an acceptable cure plan is in place for all outstanding issues,” according to a county report.
The board met several times in closed session to discuss potential legal action against AST, county officials said. Instead, the board decided to accept AST’s settlement offer.
Although the supervisors had hoped to avoid adding any more money to the project, Randall said, she thinks that the settlement with AST was as good an outcome as she could have hoped for under the circumstances.
“It seems to put the project back on track, and I think that it will be an effective system once we finally get it up and going,” she said.
County spokesman Glen Barbour said that work on the project has resumed, with completion targeted for next summer.