Consolidated accounting plan nixed by county

Friday, April 30, 2010

A state and local recommendation to change money management for Marshall County was defeated 8-10 by county commissioners during their meeting Monday night.

Thereafter, advocates of the change said it could save the county money and, at the least, would not cost any more. Commission discussion indicated concern that it would complicate county finances.

Furthermore, the proposed accounting system would provide "more transparency" on county spending so the general public might more easily follow changes in the county budget, Commissioner Mary Ann Neill said.

Meanwhile, the Division of County Audit in the State Comptroller's office has repeatedly issued a "finding" that the county is out of compliance with recommended accounting practices and that change be made. A specific system is not recommended in the annual audit. Findings are called "write-ups" by commissioners. They say there have been no substantive consequences for technical findings.

The plan was to create a finance committee that would interview finance director applicants. Employment of the committee's favorite candidate would have to be ratified by the county commission. The defeated resolution would have adopted the "County Financial Management System of 1981," the series of accounting practices has loosely been called centralized accounting, largely because it would close the budget office at school headquarters and move that work to the Courthouse Annex.

Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the Budget Committee, brought the resolution to the commission meeting where Commissioner Scottie Poarch said, "This sounds good, but it puts a new commission into something it does not know about."

Winners of the Aug. 5 election take office in September.

"There are 18 months allocated to put this system into place," Commissioner Mary Ann Neill said. The new commission would just have to appoint the committee over the finance office.

Commissioner Rocky Bowden asked, "Does anybody know the total cost to implement this?" King replied there should be no cost and some counties found that it cost less than their previous method of spending.

Neill explained that the finance committee could decide to hire school budget office employees who would move to work in the county budget office on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex where County Budget Director Freda Terry works. However, there's no guarantee that Terry would continue as the leader of the revised and consolidated department.

"It's only as good as the people who want to make it work," Neill said. "It could be sabotaged."

Conceding that he'd be expressing a view that's "a bit negative," Bowden said, "This will further complicate an already complicated system. The people who will be hurt will be those in the education system.

"Their accounting is different," Bowden said, "so if it's not broken, don't fix it."

Neill moved to call a referendum on the proposal so the public could decide, but that was seen as challenging. Ten percent of the voters would have to sign a petition calling for the referendum.

The commission's adoption of the resolution to implement centralized accounting had to be by a two-thirds margin instead of a simple majority that wasn't achieved anyway.