County Commissioners are expected to spend upwards of $700,000 next week to assist the Mobile County Probate Court in straightening out its judicial case management software, which has been an issue since the court’s former provider of those services reneged on a 10-year contract last summer.
Probate Judge Don Davis joined several municipalities around the country in filing suit against American Cadastre, LLC (AMCAD) after the company informed several municipalities it would no longer be providing service and software support related to judicial case management on June 23.
AMCAD’s original contract came with a $1.5 million price tag, but the county had only paid $329,214 for set up and maintenance at the time the contracts were halted last summer. Though the company backed out of its contract, Davis’ Chief of Staff Mark Erwin said he wouldn’t consider the county to be “out” that money, because AMCAD had provided the services agreed upon up that point in late June.
“The way we structured the contract with AMCAD, it was light on upfront costs and amortized over a long period of time,” Erwin told commissioners. “The benefit, if there is a silver lining, is that we were only a year into the contract, which means we had spent a pretty minimal amount of the entire contact at the point when they did notify us they were ending those services.”
Davis’ office was not alone. When AMCAD unceremoniously left the judicial case management business, in affected contracts with municipalities all over the country including Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona and Texas. In Alabama, Shelby, Jefferson and Madison counties also faced a similar dilemma.
In October, AMCAD filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey, which means the county never got any of its $329,214 back. Since that time, AMCAD has been taken over by Granicus, who is continuing to operate and maintain the land records and ROAM system — the online search engine used to access those records over the Internet — that were included in AMCAD’s original contract.The majority of $710,000 expected to be approved by the commission on Monday will pay for the new judicial case management software through Pioneer Technology Group, which is expected to cost just north of $636,000 by itself. The funds are scheduled to come from a $7 million surplus the county saw from its 2014 carryover funds.
Currently, the previous company’s software is still being used for the cases handled by the Probate Court. However, because the company has been out of business there hasn’t been regular maintenance or upkeep since the “fiasco” with AMCAD started.
A concern with that lack of oversight is why the amendment to the probate court’s budget included $12,000 for a consulting contract with the locally-based Logical Computer Solutions to oversee the transition from the old software to Pioneers judicial case management platform.
“With this, we’ll at least have some people that know the business to help us in the event we have something break down,” Erwin said. “‘Since this started, we’ve had a few glitches that have been temporary, but everyday we realize if they turn the switch on and it doesn’t work, there’s nobody to call.”
Additional adjustments to the probate budget include $30,000 for overtime payments, which Erwin said would be mostly for IT staff still operating the old system, while simultaneously learning a new software.
Also included was a $32,000 performance bond, insuring the upfront cost expected as Pioneer’s software is installed in the probate court system for a period of two years.
“We required a performance bond of the two finalists we talked with that would cover this entire amount we’re asking for installation,” Erwin said. “If they somehow walk out on this thing in the first two years of the contract and leave us high and dry, the performance bond would pay us the expense we put in getting everything up to speed.”
Erwin said the court could use that money to search for another company, in event the contract with Pioneer goes the way of AMCAD.
“We just felt like that was a deficiency in the original contact with AMCAD,” he said. “We were not going to repeat that mistake.”
When asked why the company wasn’t insuring the work, Erwin said the company would have folded that cost back into the proposal, which would have increased the contract price.
According to the commission, the annual maintenance cost of Pioneer’s system will be approximately $46,000, which Erwin almost is close to maintenance prices quoted in AMCAD.
“In the first two years of the contract, we paid AMCAD for installation and year of maintenance,” Erwin said. “With what we’re asking for today, which includes three years maintenance — the entire budget for new system will ultimately be less than the entire cost of contract with AMCAD was going to cost us. It will actually be a net savings over time.”