Commissioners to ask state for helpBy Clint Confehr, Senior Staff Writer

Friday, July 23, 2010

Marshall County commissioners are poised ready to ask state lawmakers to help them change their budget system here so they can "keep an eye on money," the county's budget committee chairman said Wednesday.

"We just want to know where the money is shifted to," Commissioner Mickey King said of a resolution he's scheduled to introduce Monday after the County Commission convenes at 6 p.m. in the County Courthouse Annex.

If adopted through a lengthy process, the budget system change would be "limiting all expenditures to the budgeted dollar amount at the line item level and transfers be requested and approved prior to overspending the bugeted amount," according to the resolution.

Other county commissions have such authority. For example, in the 1990s, Rutherford County's Education Committee and that county's Budget Committee were routinely facing budget amendment requests from the school board based in Murfreesboro.

Currently, "Department heads can change whatever they want to," King said of the system here.

Asked if there was a problem, he replied, "We don't know."

There is, however, a frustration heard among county commissioners in at least four other Middle Tennessee counties because commissions authorize spending plans for the various departments, but once that's done, there's not much to require school boards to follow the plan. It's an idiosyncrasy in the relationship between a number of school boards and county commissions.

Tennessee counties operate under powers granted by the state Legislature. A change in Marshall County's 2005 Private Act requires the county's legislative delegation to introduce and obtain passage of a bill. While it's routine, such requests traditionally need passage by more than a simple majority because the change won't take effect until it's ratified by a subsequent vote of the commission. Furthermore, lawmakers don't want to get votes from other legislators and later realize that the requested change wasn't ratified locally.

Therefore, the timing of the request is about as remarkable as the underlying reason for it. That's because the composition of the commission voting Monday night will be different from the membership of the commission meeting when the Private Act can be returned sometime next year after the General Assembly convenes. There will be two elections between now and then. One for the commission will see several commissioners leave because they're not running again, and there could be more as a result of the election. There's also an election in November. That's when the then-immediate past Marshall County Commission chairman, Billy Spivey, is challenging state Rep. Eddie Bass. Both are the only candidates in their primaries held Aug. 5, so they face off in November.

As for the nature of the resolution requesting more accountability from the county's department heads, King says there are various opinions, locally.

"Some commissioners are really concerned about it," King said. "Department heads are concerned about micro-management" which could become burdensome if there's an emergency. The malfunction of a photocopying machine might be seen as an emergency in some offices heavily dependent on faxing documents and providing copies to officials, including county commissioners.

Other emergencies might be more severe. One example might be a department head's ability to immediately pay contractors for repairs after a tornado damages a building.

Still, there are concerns that a school board might spend money from its fund balance and thereby increase spending on education. It's been an issue debated among local leaders after they realize the state requires a "maintenance of effort" when the spending is for education. It's been seen as a way to force more spending on schools.

Nevertheless, King says "There's nothing behind it," when asked what prompted the resolution scheduled for a vote Monday night.

Also set for considerations are resolutions to:

* Honor Buford Delwin Lee who died while on duty June 14. He was delivering water to a county resident. There were no witnesses, but it appeared that the water truck unexpectedly rolled down a hill, striking him while he was in front of the vehicle.

* Authorize County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett to apply for a grant for funding to build a pavilion at Berlin Springs. The historic site of a rock from which political speeches were made has become the site of fundraisers for the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department.

* Update a three-year Strategic Economic Development Plan as recommended by the Joint Economic and Community Development Board of Directors that includes the mayors of all five local governments in the county and other representatives from interests including education, agriculture and local business. The plan is largely administered by Mike Wiles, the executive director of the JECDB. Wiles has been working in tandem with Terry Wallace, the immediate past director of economic and community development for Lewisburg. Criteria for Wallace's successor were established on Tuesday afternoon by the Lewisburg City Council amid remarks that given the current state of the economy and high unemployment, the community needs new leadership to attract more employers and help local businesses grow.