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County Bigwigs Rant About Multimillion-Dollar Cost Overruns

In the end, they throw more money at a couple of costly and controversial projects.

Millions of dollars in cost overruns left Orange County officials fuming Tuesday, but that was about all they could do.

At issue were a couple of pricey projects seeking additional funding from the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The first involves a massive overhaul of the county's computerized property tax management system, which hasn't been updated since Ronald Reagan was president.

A few years ago, the county hired Tata Consulting Services, an Indian company, to design a new system based on a 6,000-page memo developed by the county. Estimated cost: $7.6 million.

Apparently, the 6,000-page memo wasn't detailed enough.

"There were a lot of loose ends in that document," county auditor-controller David Sundstrom told a frustrated Supervisor John Moorlach at Tuesday's board meeting. And revisions to the state tax code caused additional snafus, delaying the completion date from July 2011 to June 2012--and jacking up the price tag.

Earlier this year, Tata asked for an additional $4 million to finish the project, plus $800,000 for travel expenses and support. County officials negotiated the price increase down to $2.7 million, bringing the final tab to $10.3 million (which also includes a six-month warranty), an amount the supervisors unanimously, albeit somewhat reluctantly, approved Tuesday morning.

But wait, there's more. In addition to buying the new computer system, the county also has to train employees to use it. On Tuesday, supervisors OK'd another $2 million to GCAP Services Inc. to teach county workers to use the new property tax system, as well as new software for the county's payroll, purchasing and human resources departments.

Last year, the county employees union blasted all the computer system upgrades, saying they were ridiculously overpriced, full of bugs and inefficient. (See the video that accompanies this story.)

The $3.7-Million Landfill Office 

Another item that riled supervisors was a request for an extra $400,000 to manage construction of an eco-friendly office building at the Prima Deshecha landfill, which serves South Orange County.

In 2009, the county budgeted $3.7 million to build a 10,000-square-foot "green" office building at the landfill. The project was supposed to be done last August but has turned into "a disaster," according to county officials, who said they expect to file a lawsuit against the construction company, Horizon Construction Co. International Inc.

However, much of Tuesday's ire was aimed at Bryan A. Stirrat & Associates, which was hired to oversee the project and provide archeological services. Normally, a project manager's fee equals 15 percent of the total construction cost, officials said, which would have been $555,000 in this case.

But, so far, the county has paid Stirrat $1.6 million. And, on Tuesday, the firm asked for an additional $400,000 to oversee final touches on the project, primarily landscaping at this stage, officials said.

Giving Stirrat $400,000 "to watch a guy finish landscaping ... is ridiculous," Supervisor Shawn Nelson snarled. It's like "paying nuclear engineers to keep track of someone changing a 9-volt battery."

In the end, supervisors agreed to pay Stirrat $138,000 for work already done and ask the county's public works department how much it would charge to take over the rest of the project.

But Supervisor Janet Nguyen said she wasn't sure in-house oversight would be much cheaper. Nguyen said she's seen how much the public works department charges its fellow county agencies and "they're expensive."

Shripathi Kamath June 22, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Ah, so now we can bash the unions. Game on!
KC June 22, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Mostly that an antiquated system like that is often filled with errors and is not properly archived. Also, tax laws have changed since the 80's, I would imagine, and the system they had in place probably wasn't as nible or scaleable as it needed to be. Plus if it needed to run on legacy machines that also poses a massive problem as well, lacking security, etc.
Roy Rivenburg June 23, 2011 at 03:20 AM
@shripathi, Thanks for the correction on Tata vs. TaTa (the latter was how the board of supervisors agenda packet spelled it). I fixed that. Also, in digging through other documents, it appears the county might have hired a consultant to help develop the 6,000-page memo. But it wasn't written by Tata.
Dweezle June 23, 2011 at 06:14 PM
I agree Kerry, I refuse to walk into a WALMART store, when I have the privilege to shop, even for groceries, I look for Made in California or Made in USA. Yes, I miss out on good deals on fruit & vegetables that are grown in Mexico or Chile, but oh well. I firmly believe is using US contractors, especially for Government Work. In my opinion it is against National Security Interests to use any foreign companies in the manufacture or software design of any US Government Project, be it city, county, state or national. Just like Pakistan, our so called ally, who was hiding Bin Laden the entire time. One never can predict when an ally will turn on us, and who knows what little bug they will add into software they develop for us.
John June 26, 2011 at 11:00 PM
They could of done the whole project internally with full time County employees. You can really get alot of work in the other duties as required clause that you sign. Plus giving them a decent salary and benefits they buy things that make the economy grow. My department saves the County at least a million dollars a year in saving. Contracting especially to a foreign company is just not right and I bet it is the brainchild of that moron Moorloch!

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