By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Many people rushing to pay their personal and real estate taxes in Sharp and Fulton County found their county tax collector’s and assessor’s offices closed on Monday afternoon or Tuesday of last week.
A Rogers based computer company that provides software services to all but three of Arkansas counties (Garland, Hot Springs and Jefferson) )was a victim of a cyber attack on Nov. 5. Apprentice Information Systems instructed offices including collector’s, assessors, and clerk’s systems connected to the county treasurer’s office to shut down as a precaution due to the security breech. It is estimated that 40 counties have been affected out of the 72 that utilize services of Apprentice in Arkansas and about 10 in Oklahoma.
On Monday afternoon, the Sharp County collector and assessor’s offices shut down and were also closed on Tuesday but reopened on Wednesday. They began doing business much like the 1980s with paper and pen.
Doug Matayo, a consultant for Apprentice and chief executive officer of Standing Rock Consulting told the media that each county affected is utilizing non-technology protocols as the company remains in contact and providing updates as they are available. He would not reveal the details of the breech due to security concerns.
The elections were not affected by the breech as the data is separate from that of the others offices.
“Every county is kind of in their disaster protocol, which basically means they are using non-technology protocols for now in the interim, but Apprentice and the counties are in contact each day conducting assessments and updates.”
Sharp County Tax Collector Elect, Michelle Daggett said the collector’s office was closed on Monday afternoon and Tuesday but reopened on Tuesday. She explained the office has no way to look up records for amounts due on taxes and requests taxpayers to bring in their statements when coming in to pay taxes. The office can not accept cash or debit or credit cards and until they are back online, can only take check or money orders.
Sharp County Treasurer Wanda Girtman said that while her office’s computer system was also affected, her work typically deals with the county offices and not the general public. She also keeps a set of paper books, and has been used to the hand written method, but said checks for payments that were traditionally computer generated were having to be written by hand. She also explained that one of the computers in the Clerk’s office that is responsible for paying invoices and other billing matters had to be shut down because it is connected to her system. Girtman, who has worked at the clerk’s office for 42 years is very familiar with the way things worked before there was a computer in the courthouse but said it has been a challenge for some who have never worked without the aid of a computer.
With the timing of the security breech, many were concerned with the legitimacy of the Midterm Election results. The software utilized in the other offices is not the same as those utilized by offices that contain state information like the Department of Revenue of the Secretary of State. Each county’s vote totals are uploaded to a laptop computer that has no connection to the internet. After the totals are placed on the computers, the data contained from each voting box is then transferred from the computer to a portable and then it is uploaded by the election clerk to an encrypted site that is only accessible by the Secretary of State’s office.
While not affected by the breech, the state revenue departments require information from those seeking to renew or receive new auto tags to have proof of paid personal property taxes. It is important during this computer issue that anyone renewing tags have their paid receipt in hand when they go in to get their new vehicle tags.
The computer systems on the Apprentice server are expected to be down from two to four weeks. Some have already been put back online.
This news agency will provide up to date news on the breech as it becomes available. Please check our Facebook and website between our weekly paper updates at src-news.com.