Franklin County's recent discovery of a $2.8 million suspected embezzlement in the public works department has prompted commissioners to spend $1.1 million for new financial software to prevent future thefts.
With the contract signed with SunGard Public Sector, a software and consulting solutions company based in New York, installation of the software will begin within two months, and county employees trained in its use during the next 14 months.
SunGard also is available, at added annual costs, to provide upgrades and maintenance.
Commissioners said at their Wednesday meeting that the county will issue bonds to purchase the software, and the money to pay off the bonds will come from other sources, not yet identified, within the county budget.
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"We know the funds are available (for the purchase), and there are several ideas on how to allocate the cost," said Matt Beaton, county auditor.
Franklin County's financial software was considered outdated more than 10 years ago.
Brad Peck, commission chairman, noted the county had money available to buy new software several years ago, but no decision was made.
"Our software is badly out of date, and we definitely need this," he said.
Commissioners Bob Koch and Rick Miller said they, too, consider new software an urgent need.
Beaton, who was elected as auditor in November 2010, said the existing software was so inadequate that when he took office 15 months ago, it couldn't identify when two transactions had the same purchase order number.
"With this latest software, the computer will be able to track the audit trail on all purchase orders," Beaton said. That means everyone who is involved in every purchase order, from creation to authorization for payment, will be identified.
Each department that uses the new software could be required to contribute from their budgets to pay the bonds needed to buy SunGard's software and services, proposed Fred Bowen, county administrator.
Peck noted that the cost of the new software is about one-third of what the public works department lost through the alleged embezzlement of an estimated $2.8 million by former employee Dennis M. Huston.
"If we took the money from the road department to pay for this, the amount would be less than the theft," Peck said. But that option would be "our last resort," he added.
Huston, who was fired Feb. 8 as public works accounting and administrative director, has not been charged with a crime. County officials believe Huston, 65, used the name of a Spokane business, now defunct, for collecting payments on false invoices for vehicle parts that were not ordered or delivered.
The Washington state Attorney General's Office has taken over the investigation about Huston and the $2.8 million, which reportedly started to go missing 16 years ago.
Huston's boss, Tim Fife, was fired Monday as director of public works and county engineer. Commissioners held him accountable for mismanagement that allowed the money to go missing.
Guy Walters, assistant public works director, remains on leave. Commissioners on Monday changed it from paid leave to unpaid leave, and a decision is pending about Walters remaining a county employee.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com