Even if Y2K becomes the millennium menace that some predict, Clay County's computers should be safe when the year 2000 arrives, officials say.
The key, they say, is preparation.
"Over the last three fiscal years, we've been spending money to make all of our systems millennium-compliant," said Mike Mauldin, data processing supervisor in the Clerk of the Court's Office. "I would estimate we've spent $600,000 to $700,000.
"We have one major project left in the case management application," he said, referring to software that keeps track of such things as traffic tickets and criminal and civil court cases.
"The criminal application is compliant at this time," Mauldin said. "It's the civil, traffic and juvenile applications that we need to get compliant. That's on-track to be in place by June 1."
There's been widespread speculation that computers, especially older ones, may crash or produce faulty information when 1999 turns into 2000. Because they were programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year, older programs could read the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000.
And that may cause some problems with some computers somewhere.
"Not that it's going to happen here," said Mauldin. "But if you have a county that's not gotten into gear they could have things happen."
For example, court cases are scheduled weeks or months in all of a sudden cases don't show up to be heard," he said. "Things could slip through the cracks . . ."
In a worst-case scenario, criminals might accidentally be set free in a county where computers haven't been updated, he said. But not in Clay County.
"I don't see that happening here," Mauldin said. "Some of the smaller counties haven't taken this as seriously as some of the larger counties, like Clay County. It's an important issue."
Other computer programs that have been tested or upgraded to ensure Y2K compliance, he said, include those that process marriages, divorces and child-support payments.
While testing and modernizing computers has been costly, Mauldin said the clerk's office has saved money by using software developed by the Manatee County Clerk of the Court's Office for computers used to record deeds and titles.
"It's being made available to counties statewide," he said. "That saved us at least $150,000."
Aside from computers that serve the public's interest, another critical piece of software that applies to county employees has been upgraded to ensure no snafus in 2000.
"We're millennium-complaint for the county payroll," Mauldin said.
Technicians also have been upgrading computer systems in other county offices to ensure that Y2K won't cause their software programs to crash or spew out erroneous data.
"We just converted to a new [computer] system two years ago, so it's pretty compliant now," said Elections Supervisor Barbara Kirkman. …