Kane's money-saving computer system will cost $80,000 to fix delays

A significant backlog of court cases not yet entered into Kane County's new, multimillion-dollar case management system will now force officials to do something the system was expected to avoid - hire more people.

The system went live in December. To make it work as intended, Kane County Circuit Court Clerk staff members received the data entry burden of some 44 million documents from the old system, plus whatever new cases developed. At the same time, Court Clerk Tom Hartwell cut 13 people from his staff to stay within budget parameters.

Not getting all the records entered in a timely fashion has resulted in frustrations for the public and judicial system.

In one example, people with traffic violations ordered to attend a driving school sometimes received class assignment after the class was over.

Judges have had difficulty determining when people paid fines and/or probation fees, resulting in flawed warrants. Other times, missing or inaccurate information about criminal cases in computer records forced trial delays.

"We simply are at a point where we need this work to be done," Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles said. "We need to be able to rely on the information coming out of the system."

To make that happen, Hartwell wants to hire six clerks. That means adding $80,000 of costs to a computer system that is now expected to cost taxpayers $10.7 million. Hartwell pointed out that price tag is much better than the original estimate of $12.6 million.

"It takes more time to input information into the new system," Hartwell said. "So it is labor-intensive, and there are learning curves. But over time, the efficiencies will come."

For now, that $80,000 cost would come out of a fund set aside to get the system running. And Hartwell believes the extra help with data entry and verification will catalyze the process of collecting unpaid fines and fees. Uncertainty about some data has created hesitancy to send collection agencies after people.

County board member T.R. Smith said he believes the staffing and time involved with the data entry should have always been part of the contracts and costs associated with the project. He doesn't like the idea of having to add new staff members for a system that was supposed to result in the county needing to employ fewer people.

"People are going to say our contract may have been a pig in a poke," Smith said.

Hartwell said he stands by his decision to eliminate 13 positions. It has created some savings to this point, he said.

"I did the right thing," Hartwell said. "I'd rather be in a position of saying I need to make this adjustment having already made the cuts. I was showing good faith to the taxpayers by cutting my staff when I need to. Now I need a little push."

County board members, overall, seem inclined to push the proposal forward to approval. John Martin is the chairman of the board's judicial and public safety committee. He said the expense is just part of the process.

"The anticipation here is the more automated we become, the efficiencies will come back and benefit us," Martin said. "We bought the car. Now we need to drive it."

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