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From the Desk of Commissioner Candidate Paul Kellett

(10/1) The $87,500 question for this monthís article is: why does the county need consultants for just about every decision? At the September 14th commissionersí meeting, a vote was taken to hire Susquehanna Group advisors to determine the financial software needs of the county. The cost was not to exceed $87,500. The software to be purchased would be utilized by the new comptroller as well as the treasurer. It seems strange that the consultants would be hired (for such a high price) before gaining the input of the elected official who will be utilizing the software day in and day out.

I "googled" municipal financial software and learned that there are companies that will "help municipalities select financial software to meet both their needs and their budget." The cost of this service? FREE! Now, of course there is no such thing as free, but the company probably gets a commission from the software company if the product is purchased. My guess is that commission would be in the neighborhood of 5%. Doing the math, the software would have to cost (and be worth) $1.7 million for the Susquehanna Groupís fee to be competitive. The big advantage to the "free" company is that they only get paid if you take their advice. Which brings me to my major concern: what do you do when your consultant gives you bad advice?

When commissioners hire consultants to buy software or conduct a reassessment, they place themselves in a very awkward situation. If the software suggested does not fit the need or the budget or the $2.2 million reassessment is fatally flawed what do you do? Do you say that "yes, we just paid a lot of money for an expert opinion, but we are voting in opposition to that opinion"? The fear by the commissioners- if they have the courage to take such a vote- is that they will be asked "why did you pay the consultant such a princely sum if you are not going to heed their advice?" The other option-and one that is worse-is that the commissioners suspend their common sense and blindly take the advice of the experts--then we get a situation like the reassessment. It is my belief that the commissioners took the word of 21st Century Appraisers over the thousands of taxpayers screaming that there was in fact a huge problem.

Unfortunately, the examples are not limited to these two. The consultant for the digital emergency radio project charged $777,894 to tell the commissioners which radios to buy. The selection of Motorola does not seem to be worth three quarters of a million dollars to me. Before committing to buy St. Francis School, the commissioners paid $75,000 to see if the purchase met the expansion needs of the county government. In this instance, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church had done a study to determine the costs of renovating the building and determined it would be cost prohibitive.

I am also concerned that even if the advice is sound, is it the best advice when viewed in the larger context? The electronic salesman certainly knows his televisions and gives excellent advice as to picture and sound, but is he really able to tell me the best TV given the fact that I also need to buy a sofa and a new pair of shoes? His advice cannot be expected to incorporate the overall budget picture. In these troubled economic times, it is important to keep the budget picture first and foremost in our minds.

The consultant culture is an easy trap to fall into. It allows politician to never be responsible; instead they can just say they followed the advice of the experts. If it continues, pretty soon the county will be employing consultants to choose "the right consultant" to consult. Taxpayers need leaders who will actually take the time to study the issues, consider the advice of the citizens and the employees whom the decisions will impact, and then decide.

The new county manager should take the lead on this as well. Instead of recommending a consultant , he should determine what the new software needs to do and inquire of the software companiesí representatives whether their product will meet the need AND why their competitorsí product will not. It is amazing what you will learn from competition. He should also get references of other municipalities using the software being considered and call them to see if they are satisfied with how the software actually operates. (Just think how it would have been different if they had done this for the reassessment!)

If I am elected on November 8th, I promise to work hard to kick the consultants out and actually do the job myself. The voters of this county deserve nothing less.

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