On Feb. 26, Houston County commissioners voted unanimously to join a Minnesota Counties Computer Coop (MCCC) contract to develop a Windows-based land records management system (LRMS) through ASC/Xerox.

The move adds Houston to a rapidly expanding list of Minnesota counties to sign on to the software project. Neighboring Winona and Fillmore counties have already joined the effort.

Finance director Carol Lapham said the estimated cost for Houston County is $126,262. Thirty percent of that would be due in 2013, 30 percent in 2014 and the remainder would be charged when Houston County "goes live" with the technology.

Commissioners were told that member counties that wait until after March 1 to sign up will have to pay a $25,000 penalty to MCCC.

"I can see us doing it without levying for additional dollars," Lapham said.

Commissioner Teresa Walter made the motion to sign the agreement with the caveat that 2012 TIF (tax increment financing) payback monies be applied towards the purchase.

The TIF monies total $71,797, and Lapham recommended that option, as well as applying $60,405 from the technology equipment investment fund.

Those dollars were being held towards replacement of the current "legacy" property tax software program, which will not be supported by MCCC within a few years.

County assessor Tom Dybing said that each county will be assessed $75,000 plus $3.25 per tax parcel. Houston County currently has 15,773 parcels, he added.

The cost to MCCC to have the software developed will be substantial, Lapham said. The total for the LRMS potion of the contract is $6,250,000.

Houston County will not be taking part in the CAMA (computer assisted mass appraisal) portion of the plan.

Dybing said later that the cost to Houston County may actually be somewhat less. That's because more counties than originally anticipated appear to be joining in the effort.

If that happens, it will spread development fees out over more clients. The software is due to be delivered within three years.

Once Houston County initiates the new system, additional quarterly support fees will kick in.

According to the contract, those would be $8,034 in 2016, $8,114 in 2017 and $8,195 in 2018.

County accounts discussed

Commissioners reviewed county accounts with members of the Finance Committee.

Lapham stated that it's important to maintain sufficient fund balance, since expenses are paid monthly but income is collected on a more semi-annual basis.

"If we look at the totals for all of our major funds just for January, we've only collected $1,187,487 but we've paid out $2,597,044... We continue to do that from January through April."

Chairman Justin Zmyewski noted that fund balance has decreased by $1,363,642 from 2005 through 2012. Just in the last five years, the total is down $762,270.

"Instead of cutting the budget we've been subsidizing the budget out of that general fund," he said. "We're obviously using up a lot of money real quick."

Tax payments via ACH

Treasurer Donna Trehus brought an agreement from Bank of the West to the board for approval, which will allow its customers to pay their property taxes through an automatic deduction from either a checking or savings account.

The automated clearing house (ACH) service was approved by commissioners. Trehus said that customers can have money deducted either monthly or semi-annually.