Executive Summary

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					                              County Extension Accounting Project
                                      2003 Staff Survey
                                     Executive Summary

Purpose, Goals and Method

The County Accounting System project began in the fall of 1995. During the early years the project
was initiated on a pilot basis. Fiscal Year 2003 is the fourth year that most counties will have been
completely on the system. The County Accounting Team developed a survey to receive feedback
from the users of the system to see where changes needed to be made and to gather ideas for the
future.

The survey planning goals were to:

   1. Evaluate the plan and the practices as they have been incorporated over the last 3+ years.
   2. Identify financial management and bookkeeping problems that county staff are still facing.
   3. Gather ideas to improve the process and the practices in the future.
   4. Gather information on possible updates to our present county fiscal policy and present
      software.
   5. Identify areas where Extension Councils and county staff could be better educated.

An open-ended question approach was used -- hoping to give as much latitude as possible in
responses and answers. The survey was done using an interactive website from November 2002
through January 2003. The survey was sent out on November 14, 2002, to CEEDs,
OA/Bookkeepers, AEEDs, and Area Secretaries. Two reminders were sent to staff in January 2003.
Responses were downloaded anonymously by a third party. Forty-nine CEEDs, 39 bookkeepers,
and 3 others completed the survey. A commitment was made to provide a summary of the survey
results.

Summary
The Fiscal Policy, Annual Budgeting Process and the Annual Financial Reporting Process all
received high marks by respondents. They noted that the Fiscal Policy provides procedures,
guidance and uniform reference for decision-making by staff and council. Respondents liked the
error-free, linked worksheets provided on the Web to help counties meet their fiscal requirements in
the Budgeting Process. They suggested that the information needs to come “earlier” and be more
customizable for counties. Respondents found the step-by-step process for the Annual Financial
Reporting Process to be easier than in the past and the reports are easier to generate. They made 50
suggestions to improve the present system including adding a long-term, multi-year planning
spreadsheet tool and simplifying the instructions.

Referring to the Day-to-Day Accounting System, the respondents liked the templates set up for
monthly payroll. Suggestions were made to improve the Accounting System including many
comments on Quicken and ideas for trainings and adding online resources.

Ideas to help Extension Councils with their county financial management were concentrated in two
areas 1) making a “more conscious approach to educating council members” and providing “more
in-depth training about sources of revenue, etc.” and 2) the need to “simplify the reports,


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                              County Extension Accounting Project
                                      2003 Staff Survey
                                    Executive Summary

summaries”. One comment that captures the positive side: “The reports generated by this system
were extremely easy to use with the council. Everyone was capable of understanding and making
logical assumptions and plans from the data presented.” Another view: “It's hard to say, sometimes
you have a council that has no clue about finances and no matter what reports you give them they
don't seem to understand.”

When asked what changes would help CEEDs and OA/Bookkeepers, training and education are at
the top of the list especially for payroll and tax reports. Second on the list are various procedural
changes, such as: “Develop procedure so the county "base budget" is separated from fees, grants,
contracts and special ear marked funds like 4-H funds. This is critical for staff and councils to
understand, and to be able to relate to the bigger picture(s).” Other comments relate to the time
required to accomplish county accounting and to improving reports.

Within all the comments given in the whole survey, training was referred to in some way 114 times.
One respondent made this observation of the present training and support situation: "I think you're
doing a good job of listening to staff questions and then developing training to meet those needs.”
Respondents expressed the need for refresher courses, updates and new staff training to be provided
to all staff, including field specialists: “I think that Field Specialists need to have a brief
understanding of the accounting system, managing grants and contracts and how this affects the
budget, etc.” When asked how the training should be done, printed resources and face-to-face in a
group were at the top with ICN and web-based methods following. Suggestions included using
email and websites more, having different levels of training, making more options available such as
using video tapes, and training new people sooner: “When a person starts in May or June, waiting
until October is too long before being trained. They need the training when they start.” The most
requested training topics were grants and contracts first with payroll and tax reporting second. Other
training topics listed were reports to councils, Quicken software training, daily procedures,
budgeting and amending, managing foundations and tracking income and expense by program area
or project.

The day-to-day support system (Cal, Jan, Bill) received 98 comments and suggestions. Overall, the
comments indicated satisfaction: “I'm satisfied with the current situation.” and "knowing that you
can call someone and get an answer" and "the answers you get are well explained and the response
time to questions is prompt." Comments on the availability of the support included FAQ’s: “The
only thing I can think of would be a FAQ site on the web so people could look it up first before they
call.”, having personnel available: “Again, make sure someone is available with the answers during
critical periods, i.e., year-end.”, materials: “Biggest help: Have instructions and templates
available in time to be useful...”, and the use of the Web and email: “Continue with the e-mail and
phone responses and also when something new comes e-mail is good.” The constructive comments
received from respondents will be used to help improve day-to-day support.

When asked what were significant problems or issues with respect to the County Accounting
System, respondents raised the general areas of personnel, reports, grants, accounting procedures,
training, time required, bill payment, and support availability. The highest number of responses said
they had no significant problems they were not able to handle: “No real problems-”, said one staff.


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                              County Extension Accounting Project
                                      2003 Staff Survey
                                    Executive Summary

Referring to personnel: “Changes in staff---once a bookkeeper learns the "correct" way to put
things into categories, generate reports, write checks, complete end-of-the-year summaries----I
WANT TO KEEP HER UNTIL I LEAVE THE SYSTEM. Don't want to train anyone else!!!!”,
reports: “getting accurate reports”, grants: “The handling of grants and making people working
with grants more accountable.”, accounting procedures: “Getting categories to work for us for
tracking grants and Development fees CEED needs more information to help find problems.”,
training: “It is great to have someone to answer questions on a daily basis. But the training needs to
be as soon as a new OA or bookkeeper is hired. Mistakes can be made that take a lot of time and
effort to correct. Maybe a mentorship or orientation in a neighboring office with experienced
OA/bookkeepers upon arrival.”, time required: “Sometimes it is just finding the uninterrupted time
to do the work on the accounting. What do we do when the money from the county taxes does not
match the categories given.”, bill payment: “The difficulty of writing checks and paying some bills
between council meeting.”, and support availability: “Our bookkeeper has experience and
understands the accounting system. At this time it is going smoothly. Our significant problems of
the past have been solved because of her understanding and the availability of help when it is
needed.”

When asked for comments for the future of the Accounting System, respondents made suggestions
on how-to's: “As the accounting system becomes more and more complex, move to multi-county
bookkeepers. Instead of having 100 bookkeepers, eventually the state could have 30 to 40. This
could be done through 28E agreements between Ext. Councils.”, on training for staff and Council
members: “More attention needs to be given to developing management tools for the council aside
from report generation.”, on support: “Please continue to make resources (staff) available to
handle day-to-day questions.” and “Have an OA in each area who is competent and trained in
Quicken who can be the first point of contact.”, on having a ‘compliance officer’: “… I believe it
would be a good idea to have a compliance coordinator for each area of the state. This person
would monitor the operation and procedures of each county office. Having consistency between
offices would seem to make the system more manageable and possibly more efficient.”

When given the opportunity to make any additional comments, 17 offered thanks and praise for a
good system. Some offered evaluative statements: “Despite marginal problems or secondary
complaints, the project as a whole has been a necessary and valuable effort, and has for the most
part been handled very well (although a little slowly, but then I understand the need to ease into the
new system). The central issue, merging trust accounts with the operating account, was long
overdue.” and “I would hope we can find a balance between having to all fit into a mold that isn't
the right shape to having no shape at all. I would value more the guidelines that give us a
credibility with our financial management. Enough structure to be efficient but enough flexibility to
be effective in our day to day management. Most counties do not have the resources to have both a
bookkeeper and an office assistant but have one staff person that balances both jobs. I am
apprehensive about having so many rules that we spend too much time on only one aspect of the
support staff position or cause so much stress about doing things "wrong" without the positive
reinforcement that is also needed.” and “I was opposed to this change when it was started, but now
see how much easier it is to manage all the reports that are needed at state, area, and county



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                                     County Extension Accounting Project
                                             2003 Staff Survey
                                          Executive Summary

levels.” There were other comments on payroll, the necessity for training, and the admonition to
“Keep it simple!!”

Another issue that has been discussed from the beginning of the County Accounting Project is the
use and continued use of Quicken and /or Quicken 98. There were 39 comments with these general
issues or points being raised by the respondents: Quicken is working well now for County
Accounting: “Overall, Quicken and the Excel payroll spreadsheets work well.”, Payroll
management: “Payroll handling capabilities of Quicken are less than ideal. Is there an add-on/easy
way to incorporate payroll?” The age of the Quicken program we are supporting: “As software
versions are updated, and computer systems with their operating systems are updated, there is
much concern about keeping updated in Quicken. As we all know, older versions of software are
discontinued, or incompatible with newer operating systems, and we need to be ready to move
ahead with changes.”, Using Quicken 98 on new computers (using MS XP): “We are running into
problems with Quicken 98 not working on new computers. Is it time to look at a newer version to
eliminate this frustration?”, and why doesn’t ISUE design its own accounting software?: “The
Quicken system does not meet the needs of our county. There should not be any manual spreadsheet
entries required. If there is not an accounting system that we can purchase that will work on a cash
basis, why do we not have a computer student develop one? ISU is the Science and Technology
school. We should not be using a software package that is 7 years old. There are better systems out
there!”

In Conclusion

The above is an attempt to reflect the general nature of over 30 pages of individual comments and
suggestions giving evaluation and direction. In addition to this Executive Summary, a shorter one
page summary of the survey has been prepared. The County Accounting Team is continuing the
task of sorting, analyzing, communicating, and applying the ideas. A document will be prepared
which outlines the priority items the accounting team will pursue as a result of the survey input.




c:\files\wp_gen\Executive Summary Final




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                                                                                          Page 3 of 5
                              County Extension Accounting Project
                                      2003 Staff Survey
                                   Executive Summary

levels.” There were other comments on payroll, the necessity for training, and the admonition to
“Keep it simple!!”                                                                                     Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic


Another issue that has been discussed from the beginning of the County Accounting Project is the
use and continued use of Quicken and /or Quicken 98. There were 39 comments with these general
issues or points being raised by the respondents: Quicken is working well now for County
Accounting: “Overall, Quicken and the Excel payroll spreadsheets work well.”, Payroll                  Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic
management: “Payroll handling capabilities of Quicken are less than ideal. Is there an add-on/easy     Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic
way to incorporate payroll?” The age of the Quicken program we are supporting: “As software            Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic
versions are updated, and computer systems with their operating systems are updated, there is
much concern about keeping updated in Quicken. As we all know, older versions of software are
discontinued, or incompatible with newer operating systems, and we need to be ready to move
ahead with changes.”, Using Quicken 98 on new computers (using MS XP): “We are running into            Formatted: Font: Times New Roman
problems with Quicken 98 not working on new computers. Is it time to look at a newer version to        Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic
eliminate this frustration?”, and wWhy doesn’t ISUE design its own accounting software?: “The          Formatted: Font: Times New Roman, Italic
Quicken system does not meet the needs of our county. There should not be any manual spreadsheet
entries required. If there is not an accounting system that we can purchase that will work on a cash
basis, why do we not have a computer student develop one? ISU is the Science and Technology
school. We should not be using a software package that is 7 years old. There are better systems out
there!”

In Conclusion

The above is an attempt to reflect the general nature of over 30 pages of individual comments and
suggestions giving evaluation and direction. In addition to this Executive Summary, a shorter one
page summary of the survey has been prepared. The County Accounting Team is continuing the
task of sorting, analyzing, communicating, and applying the ideas. A document will be prepared
which outlines the priority items the accounting team will pursue as a result of the survey input.




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                                     County Extension Accounting Project
                                             2003 Staff Survey
                                          Executive Summary




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