During the public comment portion of a recent freeholder meeting that I attended, a taxpayer asked about a resolution authorizing the expenditure of $145,000 for the purchase of new computer software. The resolution was listed on the consent agenda and passed unanimously. The taxpayer’s question prompted me to do some homework.

This $145,000 “no-bid” contract was awarded to County Business Systems, Inc., (CBS Inc.) located in Pennington, New Jersey. Election Law Enforcement Commission records show that CBS Inc. and its management have made over $70,000 in reported contributions to state and county political candidates and committees.

The $145,000 figure was not a firm or final quote. CBS Inc.'s proposal specified that “a more in-depth workflow assessment would be required before final pricing and installment could occur…. The pricing provided below should be accurate based on our initial assessment, however as stated above, if additional professional services work is required that may change.” In other words, the cost to county taxpayers could be higher. The cost for changes was not clarified by establishing an agreed-upon price or hourly rate. The resolution failed to place a limit (“an amount not to exceed” clause) on the county’s expenditures for the new software.

Nor did the proposal set any milestones, which was a critical error. Instead, the county will pay the entire $145,000 up front and hope the vendor performs as expected. As the county knows, changing software platforms is an ambitious undertaking which often results in complications, delays and cost overruns. Incorporating milestones, meaning that the vendor is paid only after it meets predetermined objectives, gives the county control over the vendor instead of the other way around.

The $145,000 figure did not include annual maintenance after the first year, for which Sussex County will pay an additional $17,950 per year. A new contract will have to be negotiated in three years, as that figure only applies to years two and three. CBS Inc. will have substantial leverage because the county’s only alternative to paying more for maintenance will be to switch again to a new software platform.

A few years ago, Sussex County switched from a part-time county counsel to a full-time, $175,000 per year salaried lawyer, supposedly to cut costs. What happened? The county's annual budget for county counsel ballooned by almost 300 percent, from $300,000 in 2014, to $340,000 in 2015, to $600,000 in 2016, to $860,000 in 2017. Basic contractual errors are being made, leaving the county exposed and taxpayers on the hook. We must do better. As freeholder, I will draw upon six years of experience in public service, demand fiscal restraint, never be a rubber stamp, and keep residents informed about how their county tax dollars are being spent.

Dan Perez

Frankford

Candidate for Sussex County Freeholder