Tarrant County's Process Improvement Project in Tax Assessor-Collector Betsy Price's office is one of 24 county programs around the state to be honored this week by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) Leadership Foundation during TAC's annual conference in Austin.
The programs were selected to receive high honors for innovation, achievement and delivery of service in the 2008 County Best Practice Awards, which recognize county initiatives that serve as a model to others and save taxpayer monies.
"People in counties across Texas are coming up with such creative solutions," said TAC Leadership Foundation Chairwoman Carol Autry. "Counties have so few streams of revenue, and every good idea that can be shared is terribly important."
Tarrant County's program is being honored for Superior Innovation in Technology.
Each year, the Tarrant County Tax Office collects a little more than $3 billion. With 1.5 million customers, eight different locations, 60 taxing partners and two huge databases, the tax office must work efficiently or get lost of in the mire of "business as usual."
Depositing more than one million checks in the time-honored tradition of filling out a deposit slip, endorsing the back and sending it to the bank by courier was wasteful. Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Betsy Price looked for ways to streamline this process for its motor vehicle division, all property tax accounts and face-to-face transaction.
In 2007, the National Automated Clearinghouse adopted rules (called Back Office Conversion) that allowed vendors to scan and deposit checks after face-to-face transactions. At about the same time, Chase Bank offered to partner with the Tarrant County Tax Office to deposit all checks electronically.
With the banking industry offering new options to deposit eligible checks by either account receivable conversion or image cash letter, a pilot project worked out how the bank could accept either method, depending on what was most efficient for the situation.
Price then looked at options with vendors to update the county's scanning and account update process. Price learned that the RT Lawrence Corp. had recently developed a product to accommodate back office conversion and wanted to offer it to the government sector.
The final piece of the puzzle was to expand the scope of accounts that could be processed electronically. This proved to be a challenge since the Texas Department of Transportation was not ready to automate their processes, hence significant limitations for motor vehicle transactions.
Price created a process improvement program to study how to deposit all checks electronically, including motor vehicle and vehicle inventory tax operations, and automatically update more property tax accounts. The process looked at how to scan, verify, deposit and post checks electronically with close attention to detail.
Working with five vendor partners and Chase Bank, a new system was developed that exceeded all facets of the program. The county could now undertake electronic deposits, including motor vehicle and VIT payments in improvements and automatically updating property tax accounts.
Launched in Nov. 2007, the project almost paid for itself in its first six months of operation. The total cost of the project was $332,395 dollars in hardware and software and calculated savings in this time period were $290,000. The county will continue to reap benefits through increased funds availability, lower banking costs and reduced administrative costs.
The Tarrant County Process Improvement Project could be duplicated in whole or in part by any check processed in the state. While the Tarrant County solution involved an "all in" approach including all departments, each payment source and every check, program elements could be invaluable to any operation large or small.