• 59°

County IT expenses increased during transition to contract services

Pearl River County’s information technology expenses have doubled since 2015 as part of a transition from having county employees do the work to having an outside company provide that service in addition to the replacement, maintenance and upkeep of equipment.

During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the county employed two part time personnel to provide IT services, County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said. In the 2016-2017 year, Datastar began providing consulting services toward the end of the year, Lumpkin said. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the county transitioned to employing one county employee to provide IT services, who left halfway through the year, to contracting with Datastar to provide IT services, Lumpkin said. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Datastar was the only provider of IT services and as such the county no longer employed internal personnel for IT services, Lumpkin said.

In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the county spent $252,524 on IT, putting the county $2,524 over its $250,000 budget for that year. In the current fiscal year, the county has spent $506,953, putting the county $96,953 over its $410,000 budget for IT.

In the 2016-2017 fiscal year the county spent $371,825, which was $71,825 over its $300,000 IT budget. During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the county spent $577,035, which was $197,035 over its $380,000 IT budget.

In those four years, the county made three major equipment upgrades, said Lumpkin, which he said is part of the reason for the increase.

Those upgrades include a new phone system purchased in 2017, which cost approximately $80,000, Lumpkin said.

The county also added new backup systems for the county servers in 2018, at a cost of approximately $20,000, Lumpkin said.

The backup system was used earlier this year to recover data when one of the county’s servers went down, according to previous coverage.

The county has tried to include some redundancy and backup systems it did not have previously, which improves data security, Lumpkin said.

The third major equipment upgrade was the purchase of two new servers in July for $42,760, Lumpkin said.

Some of the new equipment will cost more to maintain after it is installed, Lumpkin said. However after the equipment is installed, some of those expenses are expected to decrease

The biggest line item cost increase in the IT budget is for contractual services, which went from $38,255.80 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year to $384,379.86 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

In the last four years, the county has transitioned from paying a pair of part-time county employees to perform IT services, to paying outside contractor Datastar Inc. to perform those same services, Lumpkin said.  The outside contractor provides one full time employee who runs system diagnostics and monitors equipment, and has a second contract for Datastar Inc. to provide managerial services, according to previous coverage.

In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the county spent $157,426.48 on payroll for those county employees, which includes state retirement matching, social security matching, group insurance and unemployment insurance.

The county now spends zero dollars on in house employees for IT services.

The county has spent $316,365.82 in the current 2018-2019 fiscal year on IT services from Datastar Inc.

The county expected to spend $15,000 for managerial services once every three months, Lumpkin said.

However, in 2019, the county has paid $15,000 for those services more frequently—including in January, March, April, May and July. This is due to work on the E-911 consolidation, Lumpkin said, so that cost is expected to decrease in the future.  IT expenses overall are not expected to return to the 2015 spending levels, Lumpkin said.

“We might have to spend a little bit more going forward,” Lumpkin said. “We’re probably never going back to before. We’re going to look at it and get into budgets before too much longer and provide the service in the most cost effective way we can. But if your IT equipment doesn’t work, your county doesn’t work.”