Howard County employees who have direct deposit found a little something extra in their bank accounts yesterday morning -- double pay for their work week.
About $1.2 million worth of duplicate checks were erroneously deposited by a computer run amok into 1,500 employees' accounts, giving them an average $800 surprise bonus.
But by late yesterday afternoon, the windfall was gone.
So was the regular payroll money the county had deposited.
County employees were then an average of $800 in the hole.
Not to worry, the county advised later yesterday. "Live" checks were issued to all 2,386 employees -- the two-fifths who regularly receive checks and the three-fifths who have direct deposit.
The 1,500 who use direct deposit were told they would have to go to their banks in person -- just as in the old days.
Payroll mistakes are not uncommon, says Dale Neubert, the county's new finance director. But she admits this one -- which she says was not the county's fault -- was extraordinary.
"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," starting on Monday, when Automatic Data Processing -- the company that handles the county's payroll and direct deposits -- began using a new operating system to process the county payroll, Ms. Neubert said.
The old program did not fit well with the new operating system, and "the payroll did not run successfully," Ms. Neubert said. Informationsent to the banks on Wednesday -- the deadline for yesterday's direct deposits -- "was not good," she said.
E. James Madairy, a division vice president at ADP, agreed. "A system glitch caused us to miss our direct deposit window," he said.
The problem caused the system to issue two checks -- one of the correct amount, and one for a slightly smaller amount, to all 2,386 employees, Ms. Neubert said. County officials worked closely with their counterparts at ADP to correct the problem, but they had a hard time pinning down what the trouble was.
The computer problem was finally solved Thursday night -- too late to change the information sent to the banks. Meanwhile, the dual payroll checks that would have gone to employees who don't use direct deposit were destroyed and the county started from scratch -- issuing a new check to everyone on its $1.8 million payroll.
Employees using direct deposit received envelopes yesterday with yellow or hot pink warnings saying the check inside was real -- and not to throw it away. An enclosed letter explained that because of the mix-up, there would be two deposits and two withdrawals yesterday in every employee's bank account.
Most employees seemed more amused than irritated.
But vacationing employees expecting a direct deposit in their banks will not be amused if they try to withdraw funds they do not have.
Each department was responsible for ensuring that that does not happen, Ms Neubert said. Yesterday, officials were trying to call vacationing employees to alert them to the problem. Barring that, the officials were told to personally deposit the checks in the vacationers' accounts.
County employees and couriers from ADP went to banks and deposited checks for about 40 vacationers, Ms. Neubert said.