On their first day back from summer break, Urban County Council members were stunned Tuesday when a $600,000 surprise was dropped in their laps, and it wasn't a good surprise.
The bearer of the bad news was Bill O'Mara, acting commissioner of finance and administration.
O'Mara told the council that converting the city's payroll data to a new computer system was going to cost an additional $600,000.
"We need it immediately," O'Mara said after the meeting.
The city's computer staff found innumerable inconsistencies in the way various divisions of city government calculated and entered payroll data into the computer.
City government has a long history of each division "doing things its own way," O'Mara said.
For example, he said, two divisions might each calculate on-call pay a different way.
Trying to untangle the morass of these payroll discrepancies in the old system, so information could be entered in a consistent way into the new one, took considerable time and money, he said.
Here came the rub. "We used up our budget," O'Mara said.
Mayor Jim Newberry said, "It appears our payroll practices that created most of these problems started back in the 1980s."
After council members regained their composure, the questions started. "Have the errors affected what we paid our employees?" councilman Ed Lane asked.
In most cases, O'Mara said, "We overpaid. In some cases, we undertaxed."
"I hope our employees will be understanding that this is a technology issue and not something else," Lane said.
"What level of confidence do you have," Vice Mayor Jim Gray asked, "that this will be a $600,000 fix" and not go on to cost $1 million or more?
O'Mara said he felt confident.
O'Mara's recommendation was to take $150,000 from information technology's budget and $450,000 from the urban services fund. That fund receives property tax money dedicated to garbage collection, street lights and street cleaning.
After extensive discussion, the council voted for a resolution that would authorize the sale of a bond issue to raise the $600,000.
The resolution will be on council's Thursday night agenda for first reading.
At the request of councilwoman Linda Gorton and several other council members, O'Mara will be back that night to present other funding options.