Budget offices merger is still under scrutiny

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Consideration of an accounting system that would merge the school system's budget office into the county's office of accounts and budgets has been postponed by Marshall County commissioners.

The subject was expected to take most of the time during last week's meeting of the County Commission, according to Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill, who said the change would result in no reduction in county jobs.

Commissioner Micky King, chairman of the budget committee, said adoption of the County Financial Management System of 1981 "should be more efficient... We're looking at avoiding duplication of services."

When Neill turned to the agenda item during the May 26 Commission meeting, she called upon King who announced, "At this time we would like to withdraw this [resolution] pending further information."

Commissioners had planed another trip to a nearby county to consult with other leaders on the proposal that was scheduled to take effect July 1.

"We were to go to Hickman County," Neill said of the trip not taken. She took responsibility for what caused incomplete arrangements because during a part of one day, her cell phone was turned off.

The resolution has been prepared after extensive discussion and fact finding, including field trips to the Bedford County Budget Office in Shelbyville and a similar office for Lincoln County in Fayetteville.

Bedford's transition was accomplished in recent years, but that county didn't have a budget officer as Marshall County has Freda Terry at the Courthouse Annex. Instead, county officials in Shelbyville voted to create a central office and the official hired for that new position was the man who'd been serving as the budget officer for Bedford County schools.

Asked about prospective financial impacts by combining the schools' budget office with the county's office of accounts and budget, Neill explained "Pay scales will change."

Differences will depend on job assignments when school system employees are absorbed into the office in the Courthouse Annex, Neil said.

Janet Wiles is the schools budget office director.

Compliance with the Financial Management System has been the subject of a county audit finding by the state Comptroller's Office for several years. Auditors recommend adherence to the 1981 laws. That could be accomplished with consolidation of the two budget offices.

And county officials have considered adopting the system before.

"I've been on commission for seven years," King said, recalling his first year on the panel, "and it was brought up then."

Momentum toward adopting the system "died down," Neill said, "but because of the economic times, we must do the best for the county."

State funds designated for schools will continue to be used exclusively for schools, the two officials said during an interview a week before the resolution was postponed.