Commissioners urged to pass legislation for year 2000 protection Measure would address punitive damages in case computers have problems

August 12, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Budget director Steven D. Powell urged the County Commissioners yesterday to enact legislation that would protect the county from having to pay punitive damages if Carroll is unable to fix its year 2000 computer problems by the Dec. 31, 1999, deadline.

Although he expects county computers to be fully compliant by spring, "there are potentially a lot of little glitches that could take place" when altering hundreds of thousands of lines of code, Powell said. The alterations are necessary so that county programs run by computer can recognize dates in the 21st century, Powell said.

"You should only pay real damages and not punitive damages if you're making a good-faith effort to solve the problem," but fail to meet the deadline, Powell said. "If you miss something, you shouldn't be liable. We should pay real damages, but not punitive."

"What are these?" Commissioner Donald I. Dell said. "I don't understand."

If sewer parts were not ordered because a computer didn't recognize the correct date, the sewer could back up and the county would be responsible, Powell said. Or an account balance that someone had Dec. 31, 1999, wouldn't be there Jan. 1, 2000, if the computer were not year 2000 compliant, he said.

"It affects only those issues that are date sensitive -- automated procedures," Powell said. "My issue is that I've been hearing a lot of prognosticating about how bad it's going to be" if computer programs are not year 2000 compliant. "I'm looking to provide a safe harbor for government agencies."

"I think you're right on," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "You're wearing your risk management hat and it says, 'Protect us from risk.' "

Commissioner Richard T. Yates asked Powell why the county "couldn't go back to the old style of writing everything down" as 2000 approaches. His bank gives him a handwritten receipt as well as a computer receipt whenever he makes a deposit, Yates said.

If a problem arises because of noncompliance, it won't just be in Carroll, it will be nationwide, Powell said.

He asked for permission to talk to the state director of technology to see what the state is doing to minimize risk, and the commissioners agreed.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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