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City Council defends removing funds to replace software that led to bill mistake

Posted at 10:38 PM, May 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-12 23:30:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond City Council is defending its decision to remove funding to replace decade-old billing software that, according to the city, caused an erroneous $20 charge to be added to 2,800 taxpayers' bills.

In an interview Thursday, the Director of Finance, John Wack, blamed the software on the error, and said the city desperately needs new software.

"I really think a replacement of the system to something that doesn't need to be customized and doesn't have all the work arounds would be that solution," Wack said.

But Wack highlighted that council opted to remove the $3.3 million for the replacement software from Mayor Levar Stoney's proposed five year Capitol Improvement Budget in recent budget deliberations.

City spokesperson Tom Byrnes said "removing $3.3 M from this pending 2018-20122 CIP removes it through 2022."

In a 2012 finance audit, the City Auditor reported the city's billing system, Munis, caused "poor customer service" and "significant inconvenience to citizens."

"The administration does have concerns about timely and accurate financial reporting," Wack said.

Yet, multiple City Council members told CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit they opted not to pay for the new software this year because they were told the city was not prepared to implement anything until 2019.

Ninth-district Councilman Michael Jones introduced the amendment to pull the funds and said council made the right decision.

"It is laughable Melissa, it is completely asinine to think we would act in such a way that would cause them hardship or cause a $20 fee," Jones said.

Jones said the Department of Finance had the money in its budget since 2014, but they never used it.

"We're saying look, if they're not going to use that money, there are some projects in our districts that can be done until they decide what they want to do," Jones said.

Byrnes said the money was never spent "because the city finance department lacked resources (staff) it has now (city finance has filled over 25 vacancies since July)."

Jones promised the software replacement funds will be restored next year.

Councilman Michael Jones

"We gave our word to say if we could use it this year, we'll identify and take care of them next year, that's called collaboration," Jones said.

Council will vote on the budget Monday.

Mayor Levar Stoney released the following statement on the issue:

"I am very concerned City Council removed 2018 funding from the 2018-2022 Capital Improvements Program budget to replace our antiquated Munis revenue administration system that was purchased over a decade ago, two-years before the first iPhone came to market.

But I am more concerned Council did not include it in years 2019-2022 either. Meanwhile, we still have a failing system that needs replacing."

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