December 2013                                                                           

Table of Contents
AL Gov't Makes Strides in Technology Efficiency
Highs and Lows in Income and Poverty among AL Counties



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Greetings from PARCA!


PARCA believes that it is just as important to highlight successes in government as to address issues of concern. This month's Perspective offers information on strides being made in technology in state government and also discusses the highs and lows of income and poverty statistics for Alabama counties.
Please mark your calendars for the 2014 PARCA Annual Meeting on Friday, January 31st. It's going to be an interesting program that you won't want to miss, including a new approach to some of Alabama's big issues. Your invitation will be arriving the first week in January!
Happy Holidays!
Jim Williams
Executive Director
Alabama Government Makes Strides in Technology Efficiency

This fall, without much fanfare, Alabama government took a giant leap from the age of paper into the digital age, a first step in a major effort to upgrade and modernize the state's computerized system of accounting, financial reporting, payroll and purchasing.


Starting on Oct. 1, state employees across Alabama stopped filling out and paper time sheets that had to be sent to Montgomery for entry into the state's central payroll system. Now, agencies are using a standardized statewide time and attendance system in which records submissions, reviews, approvals and processing all occur electronically.


The new system also gives state employees online access to their payroll, leave and benefits information any time they need it. It should also save work, paper and printing costs and give managers a better way to track workload and overtime. 


Also, in October the state Medicaid Agency switched over to a new accounting and procurement management system. That's another step on a journey toward adopting throughout state government a standardized suite of business software. This new enterprise resource planning system, or ERP, will eventually spread to all of state agencies, providing a paperless and unified system of accounting for people, money and resources across all agencies.


Both these innovations were among the changes recommended by Gov. Robert Bentley's Commission on Improving State Government. PARCA Executive Director Jim Williams served as an advisor to and member of the Commission.


The state has been operating an integrated accounting and procurement management system that was installed in 1988 and updated in 1992, according to Thomas White, Alabama State Comptroller. The system was highly customized and is badly outdated considering the massive changes in computing since its original implementation.


Various agencies have adopted their own software solutions for accounting over the years, which makes data exchange between agencies problematic. Within the state's current financial management systems, it is a cumbersome process to move data between procurement, accounting and budget planning systems.


But despite the need to makes changes, the initial cost estimates for a new ERP system were too high, more than $120 million, and there wasn't the money to do it.


However, the Medicaid Agency continued to explore its options for upgrading its own antiquated accounting system. In the course of those negotiations with the international IT consulting company CGI, a deal was proposed. CGI had acquired the company that organically designed the state's system. That gave the state the right to upgrade to CGI's latest version of the software across the board for $50 to $60 million, rather than paying double that for a new ERP system. At that reduced cost, the administration will be able to find the money by getting all the state agencies to buy in to cover their portion of the upgrade cost.


The upgrade is not going to happen overnight, but in coming months more state agencies will move onto the updated and standardized system in which the time and attendance, payroll and personnel systems can communicate with one another. Additionally, budgeting and financial reporting will be integrated with accounting and procurement. That interoperability reduces the chances for error and difficulties in reconciliation.  The new system will also have the superior abilities to do salary and benefit forecasting.


"We feel like this is a huge step forward for the state," White said.  


Highs and Lows in Income and Poverty among Alabama Counties 


New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show Alabama, like the rest of the country, has faced a difficult struggle recovering from the Great Recession. And some Alabama counties, particularly in the Black Belt of Central Alabama, continue to languish in long-term economic distress.


The Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) generally provide the best single year estimates of median household income at the local level, combining American Community Survey data with additional data gathered from other agencies.


According to the estimates, median household income in 2012 in most of Alabama was still below what it was in 2007, when adjusted for inflation. In 28 Alabama counties, including Jefferson and Montgomery, median household income experienced a statistically significant decrease. Only two counties - Pike and Coffee Counties - saw a statistically significant increase in median household income.


Five counties in Alabama - Wilcox, Sumter, Greene, Perry, and Bullock - have median household income levels that rank in the bottom 30 among the 3,142 counties in the United States. The estimated median household income for Wilcox County, $22,126, was lowest of all the counties in the U.S. By comparison, Shelby County had the state's highest median household income at $67,244, according to Census Bureau estimates. View Median Household Income estimates for all Alabama counties here.


Alabama's poverty rate, estimated in the survey at 19 percent, remains higher than the national rate, estimated at 15.9 percent. Poverty rates for counties in Alabama range from 36.8 percent in Dallas County to 8.7 percent in Shelby County.



2012 Poverty Rate, by County in Alabama

Visit the SAIPE site to further explore the data. Links allow users to explore the data in both pre-produced and interactive tables and maps.