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Florida taxpayers keep paying for failed website

There's a rule in business that applies to almost any situation: When you're in a deep hole, stop digging.

If the authorities in the Florida legislature had heeded that advice, they might be done with a problematic lawsuit and a long-overdue bill for a website that has never even gone live.

While the state has already spent $5 million on the website, there is still a contractual obligation to pay the web design company that built it an additional $500,000. Having finished the job, the company sent the state the bill in 2013.

By that time, the Senate president who had awarded the website development company the job had been replaced and the new Senate president refused to pay up. Several years of wrangling later, the company had hoped that the newest Senate president would order the bill paid when he took office in 2016.

It didn't happen. As a result, the company finally filed a lawsuit to collect what the contract says is due.

For its part, the Florida legislature says that the website, which was supposed to help taxpayers better understand the workings of the state's budget, didn't function properly. They seem to feel that the product was defective, but they also seem to think that the fact that they chose to never take the website live is also a valid reason to refuse final payment.

However, the company responsible for the website's development says that state officials were involved in the process all along and never expressed any complaints about how it functioned. In addition, two government advocacy groups have done independent reviews of the site and say that it does make the information about the state's budget easier to locate and understand.

There are times when it makes sense to fight a contract and times when it makes more economic sense to simply pay up. If the services were completed and the product apparently works, it could be an expensive process to fight the contract.

In fact, the state has already agreed to pay $200,000 to litigate the issue -- nearly half of what it owes. If it loses its case, it will still have to pay the web designer anyhow. That makes the move to fight payment somewhat questionable.

Don't let yourself make similar mistakes. Solid legal advice can often help you avoid contentious (and expensive) contract litigation.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Florida out $5 million, maybe more, in legal dispute over website," Gary Fineout, Aug. 30, 2017

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