Officials in Natchez, Miss., are hoping that a long overdue upgrade to the city’s accounting system will improve employee productivity and make tracking funds easier and more efficient.

Natchez is in the midst of deploying a financial system from Springbrook Software, which will allow all departments throughout the city to be linked. The change will increase the number of fiscal reports that can be generated and enable citizens to pay various fees online.

Diane Holland, deputy city clerk of Natchez, said it has been 15 years since the city last upgraded its accounting software. Currently operating on an IBM AS/400 computer, the system is essentially siloed, as city departments have to manually submit items such as billing statements and purchase orders to the City Clerk’s Office for processing.

Holland said the ultimate goal is to go as paperless as the city can, so departments can submit their information directly into the accounting system and tasks like issuing checks and verifying employee earnings can be done simply, in an automated fashion.

“It is time-consuming with the present system to call up earning statements or to get any kind of report,” Holland said, adding that the person in charge of pulling up that data is overloaded. “This will give us quicker access and a more detailed format.”

In addition, the financial system will be connected to the Web, giving residents the ability to pay their utilities and taxes or purchase items such as business licenses, through Natchez’s website.

The new system is set to go live in January 2012, and at first, Natchez will be running both the old and new systems concurrently until the Springbrook software is rolled out to every department. Holland explained that no more than five to eight people will initially be on the new system, but she hopes that everyone in the city will be on it within six months to a year.

Holland said the work to transfer all the city records is a joint effort involving everyone in the Natchez City Clerk’s Office. She added that the initial handful of people currently training on the new accounting system are “very excited” at how user-friendly the software is and how much more efficient operations in Natchez will be once it is fully installed.

The new system will also be a huge help in regard to cleaning out personnel files. Holland — who also handles insurance, payroll deductions, retirement and other issues for the Natchez Personnel Department — said that state law requires the city to maintain employee files for 55 years, so they haven’t been able to throw anything away.

Natchez has about 15 four- or five-drawer legal file cabinets full of records on terminated employees and retirees that Holland is hoping to get rid of once the new software is in place. Once the system is online, those old employee files can be scanned and kept digitally.

The same goes for current employee records, which will be much more accessible by both HR personnel and city workers that want to make changes to their personal information.

“We will be able to scan everything on all of the employees and attach it to their files with their deductions and their benefits — all of their personal information. … They will be able to connect to their personnel file online and update or upgrade their cafeteria plan,” Holland said.

Overall, the Springbrook financial system is initially costing Natchez approximately $150,000. Holland cautioned, however, that the price may go up another $25,000 once the software is rolled out to each department and people are trained.

Although the city doesn’t have any additional tech-related projects on the drawing board currently, Holland was confident that as the accounting system experiences success, departments will want to enhance and upgrade other facets of technology.

“The municipal court and the municipal department itself has a newer system and they will not be linked to us right away, but it is hoped that they … will be able to tie any software that they have at their system level to our system so that we can import and export [financial] data back and forth,” Holland said.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.