No, I haven’t lost it. The board and staff have successfully navigated to a brand new MARS.

What is MARS? It’s not the red planet, but rather the sophisticated database we use to house all the data related to regulated fluid dairy products: purchases from and payments to individual farmers, products sold at wholesale price and quantities of milk components typically measured in raw milk. These include things like butterfat and protein content.

The database contains all the contact and other information we need to work with our nearly 2,000 licensees. Most importantly, it allows us to calculate license fees based on volume sold, track which licensees are applying for bonds, and perform audits every month ensuring that every Pennsylvania farmer is paid accurately and on time for milk sold.

The original MARS database was created around 1999. It worked well for the times and our needs, but there were still a lot of tasks related to our licensing, bonding and auditing that needed to be done using paper or desktop applications like Microsoft Word or Excel .

We had to request many licensees to go on-site for our auditors to ensure documentation of milk purchases and sales or payments to farmers, and this required a much larger audit team than we currently have.

Those who worked for the council at the time tell me there were about 35 people on staff.

When I joined the board in 2018, a majority of our client base used the internet for their operations and we were able to accept spreadsheets summarizing all legally required licensee operations as well as scanned and sent by email to support spreadsheet data.

The old MARS was also used to keep records such as contact person names, phone numbers, and other important information about the companies we work with.

An important fact that I mentioned earlier is that the board receives no tax money to fund its required operations. All of the money used to perform our duties comes from retailer licensing fees (most of which is based on fluid milk sales); sub-dealer, haulier and weigher/sampler license fees; exam fees; and occasional consent orders due to violations of a section of the law.

Because it’s important? The largest categories of fees we collect are retailer and cooperative license fees which, as noted above, are primarily based on sales volumes.

As the volume of sales of regulated dairy products decreases, so does the amount of license fees collected by the board.

Over the past 20+ years, sales of fluid milk have declined dramatically; this reduction in our revenue has resulted in the need to reduce our higher expenses, personnel and related, to compensate. Much of this compensation came from failing to replace auditors when they retired.

We now have 13 staff on staff but are currently interviewing for an additional auditor and staff solicitor. I doubt I have to tell you that having to complete many of our tasks using paper, scanning and other less technical means has been difficult at times.

Well, I think I’ve made a clear case for a more technologically savvy database. Therefore, efforts started in 2019 to develop the new MARS, which went online on October 5th.

The new MARS has many features that will allow us to work within the constraints of a small staff. New businesses or individuals applying for one of our licenses can now complete that process online, which previously required completing a paper application.

Most importantly, the new MARS has an online payment system where applicants can pay initial fees via telecheck or a debit/credit card. Renewals and annual license payments will also be available online.

The new MARS has the ability to upload attachments and insert comments or explanations to process responses to certain elements in applications and renewals.

For those of our clientele who don’t have access to the internet, we are still providing paper applications and payment services.

In regards to the auditing portion of our required duties, audited licensees will now be able to complete their monthly reports online instead of filling out a spreadsheet and emailing it to us.

We will continue to offer local collection of Monthly Report documentation and documentation to some of our licensees as needed. With the exception of a few licensees who do not have internet access, our staff can now complete their monthly reports audit online.

The process of creating and implementing this new Oracle database was a long one. There have been many bumps along the way, but thanks to our dedicated staff and contract developers, we’ve gotten to this point.

I owe a special thank you to Steven Zalman on our staff who has devoted countless hours to making the process easier.

Most importantly, the staff thanks the board for providing the financial resources to make this happen.

PMMB is always available to answer questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at [email protected]

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