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TAMPA, COUNTY ENVISION SAVINGS IN COLLABORATION

In an effort to cut costs, city and county officials are joining forces to buy new software for such business functions as accounting, purchasing and payroll.

Hillsborough County will contribute $20 million to the project, and the city will contribute $8 million.

"It's not really high profile, but it's important," Mayor Pam Iorio told City Council members Tuesday at a briefing on the plan.

She highlighted the significance of the city and county, which have butted heads in the past, working together to save money.

"We're living in different times," she said, pointing out that the two governments have talked often about consolidating business operations such as purchasing. "You can never have a basis for consolidation if you're not on the same computer system."

City and county officials say the joint purchase will save money by allowing them to negotiate a better price.

James Buckner, the city's chief information officer, said the new software is needed to upgrade and integrate hundreds of different programs used by various city departments. Some of the systems are more than 20 years old and expensive to maintain.

He expects to save $3.3 million a year with the new system by paying licensing fees, operating and maintenance costs for one system instead of many. That means the city would recoup its investment within three years.

County budget director Eric Johnson said he expects Hillsborough will experience a similar return on its investment.

City Council member Mary Mulhern said she likes the idea, but said she wants to see data to support the claim that the approach will save money.

"We really need to be very careful about entering into this," she said.

Other council members offered unbridled support for the joint venture.

"Given the climate we're in now, any opportunity we have to work together and save dollars is worth it," said City Council Chairman Tom Scott. "It's a good idea."

Council member John Dingfelder said he recalls conversations during the mid 1990s about consolidating city and county business operations.

"It's sort of sad it's taken us almost 15 years to get here," he said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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