Will County Treasurer Steve Weber announced that his office has selected Sycamore-based DevNet Incorporated to provide software to administer, bill, and collect mobile home taxes. The agreement will cost $5,852 over three years, a savings of nearly $20,000 had the office opted to re-engineer its existing 15-year old system.

“Basically, we drove the wheels off of the system,” said Steve Weber.

“As Treasurer, I am charged with collecting these taxes,” Weber said, “We spend too much time and money managing a levy of about $250,000. If the process loses money, it’s my responsibility to fix it.”

By comparison, the 2011 Real Estate Levy is $1.62-billion while the 2011 Mobile Home Levy is $247,000.

“Our office invited vendors, including our internal IT department, to propose solutions,” said Weber, “The internal solution required nearly a year to develop and test at a cost of $26,000. We could not justify the delay and, as a result, chose an external solution from DevNet.”

A Solution for a Different Time

In the mid-1990s, the county wrote a computer program to administer, bill, and collect mobile home taxes. The first version of the program, plainly called “Mobile Home,” went into service when most computers used the Windows 3.1 operating system. Programmers also wrote Mobile Home using COBOL, one of computer programming’s oldest languages.

“At the time, COBOL was very common for business, finance, and administrative use,” said Weber, “In fact; the county also relies on another COBOL program, called ‘Real Estate,’ to manage the real estate levy. Both programs run on a genuine IBM mainframe, and that makes Will County one of the last places in the world still using a mainframe computer for its core business operations.”

The Decision to Outsource

After 15 years of service, Mobile Home was showing its age. The Treasurer’s office had two full-time employees dedicated to the system, which was becoming unreliable. A dedicated computer programmer fixed whatever quirky or unexpected result came from day-to-day use. And because of limitations in the COBOL language, programmers found it difficult to add functionality, such as online tax inquiries and payment processing.

“I do not know of any computer program that had a return on investment like Mobile Home did,” said Weber, “That is a testimony to our IT department and the programmers who worked on the program. Now we have the ability to modernize a complex process and reduce operational cost at the same time.”

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