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January 08. 2013 10:13PM

DRA commissioner says technology helping revenue collection

CONCORD - New technology allowed the Department of Revenue Administration to achieve some significant accomplishments in extremely challenging times, according to the agency's commissioner.

Kevin Clougherty told the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday his department lost more than 70 positions in the past four years going from 191 in 2009 to 119 today, but has used $7 million in capital funds for new computer systems to maintain its operations.

The "Granite to Green" project will nearly be complete by the end of the fiscal year, but some areas will remain to be done, he said.

"We don't need to go back to the 70 we lost, but we do need about 25 strategically placed positions," Clougherty said, "with different skills and talents to do things differently than what we have done in the past."

He noted his collections division lost 47 percent of its employees, but with the new automated system can take a "single view of a taxpayer" with multiple businesses. The department now knows how much that individual owes, he said, which provides "a more efficient, professional collections approach."

The new approach has reduced the number of tax liens the department files by 50 percent, Clougherty noted.

"Outstandings have gone down and collections up, which is what you want to see," Clougherty said.

The auditing division lost 39 percent of its workers in the current budget, he noted, but the agency has automated the process to pick up "outliers."

"Selection is done through statistical models," he said. "We use the same management software as the big accounting firms."

But he did say and Committee chair Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, agreed, having fewer auditors has reduced state revenue.

"You have sacrificed $25 million to $30 million a year," she said.

Clougherty told the committee the new computer systems have made the department more efficient, effective and transparent.

"We have re-engineered the business," Clougherty said, "but we are at a critical point and we need some help."

The new computer system has helped in other areas, he said.

The agency has been electronically downloading tax map information from towns and cities through a Geographical Information System that has been in operation for two years.

"We are the only state in the country that has this system," Clougherty said, noting other state agencies such as the Department of Safety and the Adjunct General also use the information.

The system allows his department to look at all the real estate transactions and how they align with the real estate transfer tax, he said.

Clougherty said the new tracking system could help in other ways too.

If a tornado went through New Hampshire and Maine, once the National Guard flew over the affected area and relayed the coordinates, he said the information could be plugged into the system telling state agencies the properties affected and damage estimates.

"We could lock up all the available FEMA money for New Hampshire before Maine," he said.

The committee also heard from the Legislative Budget Assistant's Office and others discussing the state's revenue system and how revenue projections are developed for the upcoming budget work.

grayno@unionleader.com

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