A massive computer upgrade for Kane County's court system once expected to cost up to $12.6 million now has a smaller price tag, but the initial plan to fund the new system won't be enough without diverting some additional tax dollars.
Outdated technology and the need to process several different kinds of reports by hand in various segments of the county's legal system are fueling the need for the upgrade. The problem is also reflected in an as-yet-unaddressed call by two county board members for a criminal investigation into more than 1,000 DUI convictions that went unreported to the state between 2005 and 2008.
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The county has not yet selected a vendor for the computer upgrade, but the latest estimates put the price tag at no more than $9 million. That includes about $6 million in software and implementation costs and the hiring of four technology gurus to oversee the three- to five-year process of getting the new system running. Those four employees alone will cost the county more than $400,000 a year during the implementation.
"The major concern as a board is that we have a significant cost, and we don't have the funds from our operating budget to cover this," said John Hoscheit, county board finance committee chairman.
That same problem was identified early on in the process. Board members approved the creation of a judicial technology sales tax fund at that point. The fund siphoned dollars out of a larger pool of public safety sales tax dollars. But that plan came at a time when officials were still crossing their fingers that the overall cost would be even less than the new $9 million price tag. The result is there won't be enough cash in that fund to pay for the upgrade.
A new plan calls for a deeper tapping of the public safety sales tax fund to pay for the project. Next year, an additional $1 million would be moved out of that fund to help pay for the computer upgrade. Then, in 2015, a $2 million transfer out of that fund would go toward the upgrade. That overall fund is currently used for both transportation costs and some needs in the sheriff's office.
Kane County Finance Director Joe Onzick told board members Wednesday the transfers won't be a problem.
"These transfers are not depleting these funds," Onzick said. "There are ongoing revenues to replenish them. And it does appear that there is sufficient funding for this project."
The full county board must still vote on the funding plan before the idea is locked in.
Board members all agree the upgrade is needed as soon as possible. The issue came to a head last month when Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hartwell discovered 1,393 DUI convictions that went unreported to the state under his predecessor, Deb Seyller. That resulted in two county board members calling on Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon to begin a criminal investigation into how the convictions fell through the cracks. The inability to process the convictions was a point of testimony by Seyller during the lawsuit between her and the county board. County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen publicly called on McMahon's office for a response to the investigation request last week. McMahon has not yet publicly announced what action, if any, he will take.