Licking County is developing its own software for the treasurer's and auditor's offices -- software that eventually could be offered to other counties in the state.

Licking County is developing its own software for the treasurer's and auditor's offices -- software that eventually could be offered to other counties in the state.

Licking County Auditor J. Terry Evans said both he and treasurer Michael Smith were having trouble running reports and finding information in the current system quickly.

"We thought it might be time to develop our own," Evans said.

The county was fortunate in that two people in the information-technologies department could develop the system. Matthew Holtz, a development administrator, has been with Licking County for seven years, and Chad Fuller, director of enterprise development, has been with the county for 12 years.

Fuller said the work was challenging, but now that the software program has been written and is proving that it works, there's a "real sense of pride and accomplishment."

"It gives you fulfillment," he said.

Before Fuller and Holtz started writing a program, they first needed to learn the challenges Evans and Smith were facing. Smith said the two men "had to understand what the end-user needs."

"It was amazing how quickly they caught on," Smith said.

Fuller said they spent three to six months working with staff in both departments, learning what information needs to be stored and how it must be accessed for use.

"Investing that time up front is the best time you can spend in system development," Fuller said.

Holtz said the information he and Fuller collected from the two departments actually helped them complete the project sooner than expected.

The final work was done in slightly more than a year. As of Jan. 1, the county's new system, OnTrac, was implemented. It currently runs parallel with the existing system, which was developed and is maintained by Manatron, a nationwide company that works with 55 of Ohio's 88 county governments.

Smith said the county already is seeing the benefits of OnTrac: reports that took 48 hours to run in Manatron's system take only two hours in OnTrac.

"That's something the public won't see on the back end, but that allows our employees to do more work," Smith said. He said workers who were in charge of running the longer reports would be able to spend more time on other work.

Reports have been an issue for Smith since he's been in office, he said. He said he could run certain reports through the Manatron system, but Manatron charges for other specific reports that the county often needs. With OnTrac in place, those same reports can be run at no cost to the county.

Evans said the county currently pays Manatron about $85,000 annually for maintenance of the current system.

Smith said if the county could operate OnTrac successfully for a year, officials might stop contracting with Manatron and keep its software services in house. He said that would eliminate the need for a user group, which is made up of Manatron users throughout Ohio. The user group reports issues to Manatron and the company can address those.

It could also eliminate the need for the county to pay Manatron $16,000 a year for posting county data on the Web site. Fuller explained that Manatron holds the data generated in its system so the county has to pay Manatron to put the data on the county's Web site. Smith said OnTrac would allow the county to put its own data from its own system online and eliminate the need for that contract.

He said that as more information becomes available online, his office might be able to reduce its number of employees, saving the taxpayers money.

"Long term, there's a huge savings," he said.

Also, OnTrac posts data in real time so if taxes are paid, that payment is posted online the same day, not a day later, as has been past practice in the Manatron system.

Officials from Manatron agree that the county could save money with an in-house system.

Rachel Bryant, director of marketing for Manatron, said several governments nationwide have created their own software. Some are successful and some are not.

She said that by creating a system specific to one county, the governments lose some of the benefits of working with a company like Manatron, which has a full-time maintenance staff and 40 years of experience in the business. She said having a company that works with several different governments could be a benefit because as the company corrects issues for one county, that update benefits the other county users.

"That's the strength of the software," she said.

Fuller said the county tried to consider Ohio requirements and ensure that this system is not just for Licking County, but also could be used by others.

He said it would hold 1,000 records or 1-million records to accommodate small or large counties, and Holtz said it could be upgraded easily so the county could always add to the program.

It is set up to be used by people with minimal training, and each screen is set up the same, so anyone using the program in either the treasurer's or auditor's office easily could navigate the system and use the same process to save or collect data, Holtz said.

Other county officials interested in OnTrac already have approached Smith and Evans. Smith said they want to use the program for a year first to make sure they have a year's worth of data compiled before going solely to that program.

All agreed, though, that the program should be marketed to others eventually.

"It's more workable, I would say, than anything we have or have had," Evans said.

OnTrac is a copyrighted acronym for Ohio networked tax, real estate, assessment and collections.