Centralized budgeting gets mixed reviews

Friday, October 10, 2008

The prospect of reorganizing Marshall County's money management is seen as a way to save money by some county commissioners while others see no advantage in change, according to three commissioners' comments on Wednesday.

Doug Bodary of the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service explained the various systems as permitted by the state Legislature. His presentation was the subject of a non-voting workshop for commissioners on Tuesday night.

"I'm for it," Commissioner Mickey King said. "You wouldn't run your business with two different accounting departments."

The Office of Accounts and Budgets in the Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square has already started a system of purchase orders for separate offices such as the Election Commission. Other departments have been paying their own vendors, and the Board of Education has its own budget office at headquarters near Jones Park.

"We're duplicating services," King continued. "This will be the best thing for the taxpayer; not to fund these two services."

County Accounts and Budget Director Freda Terry and Janet Wiles, the budget director for the school system, both have staffs, King said, adding, "It would be cheaper to have one.

"It's change," he said of what the county commission is considering. "Some people don't want to change."

Commissioner Rocky Bowden, the former Forrest High School vice principal, said

"I feel that what we have is very adequate. I don't have a problem with it. I don't think there's anything that's broken."

Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill takes a different approach.

"There's always room for improvement on anything," Neill said. "I'm looking for the possibility of eliminating duplication of services, having more information more readily available and a smoother system."

Bodary reviewed Tennessee's Financial Management Act f 1981, explaining his experience when helping Bedford and Giles counties change their change from systems that may trace their roots to a private act passed in 1965 that outlines budgeting procedures for various counties' highway departments and school systems.

"This provides for duplication of services that you're doing now," said Bodary, who also reviewed a general state law enacted in 1957 for Bedford County.

Bedford County hired a purchasing officer for all its departments, officials there have explained. That accountant had been employed by the school system headquartered in Shelbyville.

In Giles County, county commissioners decided against implementing a system of central accounting, Bodary said. However, residents there circulated a petition, placed a referendum on the election ballot and forced the system on their county officials. Bodary said a second referendum was conducted to decentralize budgeting and that referendum failed, thereby leaving Giles County officials with a centralized budgeting system.

Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, better known as GAAP, were also reviewed by Bodary who said GAAP "actually brings about sound financial accounting practices to the county."