The Village of Oak Park is transitioning from a million-dollar software program just six years after buying it.

Oak Park has taken the first steps to terminate PeopleSoft, an accounting and human resources program that has given the village fits since purchasing it in 2003. To date, the village has spent more than $1.6 million to implement the program, which is typically used by large universities, Fortune 500 companies and governments on the scale of New York City.

Tom Barwin, who started as village manager in 2006, says Oak Park has learned from the mistake and plans to buy a more simplistic “Chevrolet” software package, as opposed to the “Escalade” it currently owns.

“We’re going to review the packages that are out there and rely upon something that’s tried and true and is affordable,” he said. “We’ll certainly speak with several other municipalities that are about our size, and maybe smaller, to see what’s working for them.”

Oak Park sent out a request for proposals June 3, looking for companies to handle payroll and aspects of human resources. Village staff plans to review the responses, which were due July 2, in the next couple weeks, said Craig Lesner, chief financial officer.

Eventually, the village will bid out other parts of its operations now handled by PeopleSoft, such as accounts payable and utility billing. Lesner was unsure how much the transition will cost, but Barwin believes the village will be able to purchase and implement new software for $150,000, based on his past experience as a manager in Michigan.

In a meeting in January, officials said it would cost Oak Park about $850,000 over the next 10 years to transition to mid-tier software. That’s a bargain compared to the additional $2.6 million Oak Park would need to spend if it wanted to keep PeopleSoft for the next 10 years.

The software program became the center of controversy back in January, when it was revealed that Barwin and Lesner had allowed a contract with a PeopleSoft consultant tasked with helping Oak Park implement the program to more than triple the allowable amount.

The village board approved a contract with JCG Corp. in July 2007 for $75,000 to help close “gaps” in the software. But JCG kept working far past that, running up a total of $279,000. Rather than going to the village board for approval, the overage was paid in a series of checks under $25,000. Any amount over $25,000 must go before the board for approval.

After the overage was revealed in January, the village launched a third-party investigation to determine whether Lesner and Barwin broke the law. The results of that investigation, released in March, determined no fraud or malicious intent was behind allowing the consulting contract to continue.

Trustees said then that the village would evaluate in the coming months whether it wanted to move to a new software program or remain with PeopleSoft. Jon Hale, a member of the finance subcommittee of the village board, said they gave staff an informal blessing in late June/early July to move forward with finding new software.

“There’s a lot of money that flows through village hall,” said Hale. “They definitely need to have a top-notch accounting system and cash flow management system. … We have to deal with it, but in this kind of economic environment, we need to be as frugal as possible.”

Lesner hopes to change to an outside payroll vendor by the end of this year. As for the other aspects of PeopleSoft, it will depend on how expensive and complex the transition ends up being. He does not expect to hire any new positions, and Oak Park has, in fact, left three positions vacant in finance and information technology in anticipation of the change.

Hale said a better system will help village hall be more transparent about how it uses taxpayer funds. He believes Oak Park will be very careful this time in making its decision.

“Clearly, back when PeopleSoft was first purchased, it hadn’t been completely thought through in terms of how it would be implemented or if it was the appropriate system for village hall, and we have to do better this time” Hale said.

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