By Kelly Young

Cherokee County commissioners discussed the topic for more than an hour, but ultimately decided to table an agenda item which would have allowed Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace James Morris to switch his office’s debt-collection agency.

Morris sought the permission because he said he feels an opportunity has presented itself which will not only increase the productivity of his staff but also save the county nearly $15,000.

The county’s JP offices are the only departments in the county that don’t utilize the NET Data computer system, and as a result have interoperability issues with the other offices. Morris wants to take advantage of an offer from NET Data which would allow him to upgrade to the new system for free if he also changes his office’s collection agency.

“The computer program the JPs use, Hill Country, is a non-connected system that has no ability to share information and has grave and serious limitations. Our courts are definitely in need of better software, and this software is a tremendous step forward from what we are using now,” Morris said. “They have their own collections agency which operates within their software, and we have been given the opportunity to have their software for free if we begin collecting through them.”

If the proposed change were to take place and Precinct 3 were to trade collection agencies, the NET Data software, its installation, training for its use, conversion from the old system and annual maintenance would be free-of-charge.

While the change would only affect Morris’ office, representatives from McCreary, Veselka, Bragg and Allen — the county’s current debt collection agency of more than 30 years — said it would require all the county’s various contracts to be renegotiated.

Several members of the court didn’t like the idea of changing collections agencies, especially in light of the excellent service McCreary has provided over the decades, they said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Byron Underwood asked whether it was possible for Morris to change software providers without changing collection agencies.

“If we stay with McCreary but do switch to NET Data, it would cost us $14,500 for the first year and $2,000 a year after that for maintenance fees. If we can merge the software and the collections under one umbrella, the cost savings will be tremendous,” Morris said.

Brenda Dominy and Teresa Phifer, JPs of Precincts 1 and 2, respectively, were on-hand at the meeting, and while both have had issues using the Hill Country system, neither felt they needed a system overhaul.

“With any software you are going to have bugs from time to time, but at this time I am quite happy with what I have,” Dominy said. “I have no problem with Judge Morris trying to get whatever he feels is what’s best for his court, but I do want to say that I am very pleased with the job McCreary does, and I would hate to see them lose any of our collections because they are so good to us.”

Phifer said, “I have had issues with Hill Country, but I don’t feel like — with my caseload — that I warrant any other software at this point in time.”

Each justice of the peace has a legislature-created technology fund which is set aside expressly for purposes like this, but Morris said it would be a waste to drain $14,500 of his precinct’s $19,000 fund to pay for something which could be acquired for free.

Featuring a month-by-month contract, Morris called the NET Data proposition a “win-win situation.”

“We would be using the new software on a trial basis just to make sure that it all works out the way we believe and expect it will. I have contacted several offices which have switched to NET Data, and there has not been one negative statement from anyone I have spoken to,” he said. “I don’t see a down side to this; give me the proper tools to do my job better and more productively.”

Ultimately the commissioners decided they needed more information before they could make an informed decision on the topic.

The court did vote to spend $33,806 for a new roof on the courthouse annex. County Judge Chris Davis said the building, which houses the county’s election equipment and will soon be the home of the Cherokee County Historical Commission, has developed a few leaks.

“I would like to see a roof put on that building like the one we put on the courthouse with the white surface reflecting all the sunlight. I’ve already talked to them (the roofing company), and they guarantee against water damage and have a 15-year labor and materials warranty,” Davis said.

The fire chiefs from North Cherokee County and Earle’s Chapel volunteer fire departments, Danny Rozell and Ted Hunt, came before the commissioners to ask for increased funding and to consider hiring a county fire marshal.

Although no action was taken by the court, the men were told to come up with specific funding requests and to present them again in a few months when the county has started its budgeting process for the next fiscal year.

For the second meeting in a row, an item regarding a possible tax abatement agreement between the county and Hilton Services was postponed because it was not ready for presentation to the court.

The court also passed on an item to finance a roller for Precinct 3. Commissioner Katherine Pinotti did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, and the other members of the court did not want to take action pertaining to her precinct without her input.

In other business the court approved:

• laying utility lines on County Roads 3406 and 4610;

• the monthly report from Eddie Lee, constable of Precinct 3;

• bids of $9,995 and $10,995 from Big Bear Cruisers for the purchase of two 2005 Crown Victorias for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department;

• a budget amendment for Precinct 3, allowing for the hiring of four part-time workers;

• a plat in the Easter Shores subdivision; and

• paying the bills.

Cherokee County Commissioner’s Court regularly meets at 10 a.m. the second and fourth Monday of each month, at the county courthouse. The public is invited to attend all meetings.

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