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Riverside, Sacramento Counties Set Sights on New Tax System

California’s complicated property tax laws have caused many counties to continue using legacy systems, often coded in COBAL, into the modern era.

California’s complicated property tax laws have caused many counties to continue using legacy systems, often coded on COBAL, into the modern era.

Several counties, including Riverside and Sacramento, have begun looking for replacement systems that can support all the data.

Riverside is preparing to roll out its final testing phase for the replacement of its 45-year-old mainframe structure. The fixed-cost contract for the tax system was awarded in 2010 for $28 million. Quality problems were found during testing rounds, extending the contract by almost four years.

The $265 billion asset system is a “complex financial system,” the project manager for Riverside County’s new tax system, Ken Wang, told Techwire.

“We are currently using our legacy system, so right now we haven’t finalized the exact window between our three property tax departments — the assessor, the auditor and the treasurer,” Wang said of the rollout.

Wang predicts that the legacy system will populate tax bills and the new system will be implemented as taxes are being paid. This process should take about 30 days, and the system will be “operationally dark” during that time.

“There’s a process to try and pull out about 15-plus years of data from our legacy system,” Wang said. “We have to then run through a massive amount of data conversion to transform the legacy data structure into the new system structure, and then we have to run through a lot of validation checks to make sure the data migrated correctly.”

The county has hired COBAL coding contractors to assist in data migration.

At the same time as the tax system rollout, the county is adopting digital maps. Some of the data currently resides on an Esri GIS product, and other information is still on paper maps.

Sacramento County, meanwhile, has just completed gathering requirements for its new property tax system. Part of the problem many counties have encountered is the scope of the project.

“There’s not a lot of vendors out there that can do this, especially in California, because of the complexity,” Wang said.

The original vendor was a “good-sized company” that encountered milestone delivery challenges. It was bought out by Thomson Reuters.

“We truly believe that if the original vendor hadn’t sold to somebody this big, we would have bankrupted them just with our contract,” Wang said. “There are companies that went bankrupt because California was just too tough to meet the requirements.”

Between 40 and 50 full-time county employees were assigned to the project as subject matter experts.

“Every time we find issues, we will reject, even though that means we are delaying time,” Wang said. “A lot of jurisdictions point to us because the vendor is so committed. They’re telling everybody, 'Until Riverside is successful, every other has to wait because the result of our project will benefit everybody.'”

Kayla Nick-Kearney was a staff writer for Techwire from March 2017 through January 2019.