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New computer software should improve billing procedures for city Parks Department

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City Council members were perplexed when they learned last year that some computer software was never installed that could have helped the Parks and Recreation Department track billing.

But the department soon will have new software that will make it easier for staff to keep track of billing and allow for facility users to sign up online for programs and to reserve fields and facilities.

By simply clicking a link on the city’s website, Parks Department customers will be able to pay with credit cards, said consultant Brian Hatch.

Mr. Hatch, who works for Vermont Systems Inc., an Essex Junction, Vt., company that specializes in parks and recreation software, has been installing some aspects of the new system while working this week at the Parks Department offices at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

“It will free up staff to work on other things,” Mr. Hatch said, noting users will no longer have to go to the office to make reservations or sign up for programs.

As a result, staff won’t also have to answer as many phone calls from people wanting to participate in Parks Department programs or wanting to know if a game has been canceled because of the weather. The system also will provide cash flow capabilities, inventory control for the municipal arena’s concession stand and complete invoicing.

The city is paying Vermont Systems $34,471 to install the Webtrac and Rectrac software. That does not include expenses for annual maintenance, upgrades and technical support.

The system will be able to improve marketing for the department because it will track users’ addresses, zip codes and ages and that information could be useful in trying to get people interested in the department, Mr. Hatch said.

Initially, an “email blast” will be sent to users to let them know about how they can go to the city and department websites to find out about programs and facilities, he said.

For several years, the city paid an annual fee of $4,500 to lease software that was never installed at the Parks Department, which angered the Watertown City Council because it wasted taxpayer money.

“I don’t think it ever got out of the box,” said Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, adding the new system has a number of other features that will make the Parks Department run more efficiently and be more user-friendly. Council members learned about the old system’s lack of use soon after Erin Gardner was named superintendent earlier this year, Mr. Smith said. She was hired as part of an extensive revamping of the department.

The revamping was prompted by the council’s discovery that tens of thousands of dollars in bills for numerous recreation facility users over several years went uncollected.

Communities in New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, North Dakota and several other states use the Vermont company’s system.

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