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Stalemate between Assessor, commissioners continue

MONTESANO — The county commissioners Thursday morning pressed Assessor Rick Hole to give up on his attempts to create a customized software to do countywide revaluations using the county’s archaic computer language and go with a more professional system created by outside developers used by dozens of other counties in the state.

Hole, again, refused, saying that the options available for the county in a customized stand-alone system made more sense and would be more affordable to the county in the long run.

The situation has created a bit of a stand off between the elected officials that has lasted for several weeks and has led County Commission Chairman Frank Gordon to ask for Hole’s resignation.

Hole, who is up for re-election in less than a year, is in charge of making decisions involving his office. But the county commissioners are involved in budget decisions and make ultimate decisions involving contracts.

And, at this point, none of the commissioners appear ready to commit any more funding on Hole’s wish list. And one side is going to need to budge in order to meet the state’s mandate of an annual revaluation requirement next year.

All of the software problems are on top of the Assessor’s Office being repeatedly late on getting revaluation notices out.

“I believe that the reason we are late this year after not being timely last year is I put together a bad work place and I was warned against it and I went down that path anyway,” Hole said. “We were late and I was looking at a path for us to catch up and it didn’t work out.”

Hole spent a nearly 90-minute long special meeting Thursday morning going over a review of what his program should be able to do. The only problem, county computer programmer Ron Malizia noted, is that hardly anything is working. Malizia practically begged Hole to just bite the bullet and can the program.

“Please re-look at a canned package,” Malizia told Hole, repeating a statement he had consistently made throughout the meeting. “I don’t want us to be down the road six months from now and it’s still not done. It might not have all of the bells and whistles you like, but it will be a more stable package.”

At this point, the county has spent $163,000 in state grant funds to build a program. The county has about $325,000 from the state to specifically work on its revaluation software needs. That means there’s still $162,000 left.

Hole has asked to increase his budget for the revaluation software from $200,000 to the full $325,000 grant. Thus far, the commissioners have consistently tabled the issue, refusing to act. The issue is set to come up for a vote again on Monday.

At one point, Hole said he had dreams of a software package that would convert voice descriptions to text using a device out in the field that would input it all into an online site automatically. At this point, though, not even the basics of the program have been complete — despite attempts at creating the software dating back to July of 2012. Gordon has asked the State Auditor to look at fraud charges for one of the former consultants.

Current software consultant Bernie Benson notes there’s been “two other failed attempts” to do what he started to do in August. Benson says it will cost another $64,800 — at a minimum — to complete the software and it won’t be ready to go until June.

But County Commissioner Wes Cormier, a former appraiser, says the county would be gambling on what little state money they have left on a program they don’t know will work. There’s not even a beta system up yet to see if what they’re talking about could even work. That’s compared to just buying a program off the shelf for $250,000 or so, plus an annual maintenance fee.

Even Benson told the commissioners he would completely understand if they went with an out-of-the-box system.

“Do what you think is best for the county,” Benson told them Thursday morning.

Gordon invited the county’s budget staff, as well as Treasurer Ron Strabbing and Auditor Vern Spatz to chime in.

Strabbing said he didn’t really care one way or another what happens, so long as the deadlines are met, which they haven’t been. And that impacts his office.

Spatz said it didn’t make any sense at all to have the county design its own software package when there’s boxed software out there that would likely be better fitting for all of the county’s offices.

County Commissioner Herb Welch said he felt that he had been sold a bill of goods, with promises that the software would do one thing and it ended up doing something else entirely and isn’t even working. For one thing, Welch pointed out, the consultant is suggesting a $24,000 annual maintenance fee on the package — when the whole reason the county was building its own software was to avoid annual maintenance costs.

“Would you consider going with a canned program at this point?” Cormier asked Hole at the end of the meeting.

“I believe the in-house system is the right system and it’s the path forward that will deliver and my listening better to the appraisers will give us confidence in the work plan of the appraisers that we need,” Hole said.

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