Tax director resigns as $60M computer upgrade project falters

Tax director resigns as $60M computer upgrade project falters
Published: Dec. 5, 2017 at 7:42 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2017 at 7:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of the state Tax Department has resigned amid ongoing concerns over a beleaguered $60 million project to modernize the state's outdated tax collection and filing computer systems.

Maria Zielinksi told Tax Department employees in an email Tuesday that today was her last day and she planned to move to Maui.

"While there are likely to be some hurdles and bumps along the road in the coming year, I believe you will all endure and be stronger from it," she wrote.

No immediate comment from the Governor. A spokesperson says he's traveling and is expected to answer questions about this Wednesday.

The resignation comes as Tax Department employees and their union are raising red flags about the modernization project.

The project is being managed by the state's Chief Information Officer, Todd Nacapuy, and Deputy state Tax Director Damien Elefante.

In a letter last month, HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira complained to Gov. David Ige about the shift in the project's management shift from Zielinksi and IT Manager Robert Su and asked to restore their control.

He wrote, "There is a complete lack of confidence in the project leadership of the DoTax deputy director and the state's chief information officer."

He added, "Employees are compelled to voice their concerns because they are loathe to bear responsibility to the system's inevitable failure, under current leadership, and the catastrophic effects it will bring."

Meanwhile, the governor's office has pledged to take a serious look at the project, which affects thousands of taxpayers and $2 billion in personal income taxes.

The state is under intense pressure to get the new system finished on time.

The income tax portion of the system is supposed to be done by the end of next year and workers predict major problems for taxpayers in 2019 if the issues aren't fixed.

Several spoke anonymously to Hawaii News Now, citing fears over losing their jobs if they identified themselves. They claim mismanagement, retaliation, and a lack of knowledge transfer as the new system is set up.

"If this project does not reach completion, we are in disaster of losing hundreds and hundreds of taxpayer information because our hardware could fail," said one worker.

Perreira, of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said he's worried that "nobody is paying attention to these tax employees and at the end of the day a lot of taxpayer dollars could be wasted."

An independent consultant's report called the tax system modernization's governance, management support and communication "severely challenged" and "somewhat dysfunctional."

Ford Fuchigami, Ige's administrative director, said before Zielinksi's resignation Tuesday that he wasn't planning any management changes, but he is investigating concerns.

"I'm very concerned. We don't take this thing lightly," he said.

He added that the project still needs $16 million from the state Legislature, and everyone agrees the need to modernize the state's outdated computer system's is critical.

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