Budget padding targeted

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

County offices shouldn't be able to spend money appropriated for one thing and buy something else, according to a Thursday night discussion among several Marshall County commissioners.

"This padding is becoming a problem in some areas," County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill told her fellow Budget Committee members who indicated support for a policy change to prevent it. "I'm not saying everybody does it."

"It" is transferring money from one account to another. That might still be possible, but it may require permission by the Budget Committee.

Neil proposed renewing such controls because "It'll be budget time again before you turn around; just watch."

Fiscal years for local governments start on July 1 and end a year later on June 30, and the first Budget Committee member to speak up and endorse Niell's point was Commissioner Mickey King.

He said that a department may have had $2,000 allocated for office equipment, but the requested machine wasn't purchased.

However, Commissioner Don Ledford said, "Every situation is different and there could be emergencies."

Perhaps changes to budgets should be presented to the Budget Committee, Ledford said.

That was a requirement, but such tight reins on spending changed.

"The state is what really relaxed that," County Accounts and Budget Director Freda Terry said, reflecting on previous practices.

The practice could be reinstated, Terry said.

Neill said if one of the county offices that receives money from the county general fund is, for example, budgeted money for a truck purchase, but the vehicle isn't bought, then that amount of money should be returned to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

An alternative, she indicated, is what Ledford endorsed; have the office director approach the Budget Committee and explain why money for a truck should be spent on something else.

It's not unusual. During the 1990s, the Rutherford County Board of Education would almost routinely present budget amendment requests to the Rutherford County Commission's Education Committee which, in turn, forwarded the request to the county Budget Committee, and that panel would make a recommendation to the Commission.

Marshall County's Budget Committee discussion on such practices began Thursday night with consideration of an office holder's request for a solution to his office car's condition. It's a 1996 Ford which, according to committee discussion, is used to drive to the bank, Post Office and back to the Courthouse.

One Budget Committee member asked if that office could be provided $20 per week so the employees could drive their own cars for those errands. Terry replied with a brief explanation about the 52-cents per mile that must be paid, adding that the car's broken air conditioning system is now compounded by an exhaust system problem.

As one mechanic in Mooresville was recommended by Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, King endorsed repair, saying the car might last another three to four years.