Budget committee denied chance for more authority

Friday, July 30, 2010

Voting 9-5 with two abstentions, Marshall County commissioners on Monday decided against asking state lawmakers to give their budget committee authority over changes in department budgets after those spending plans are set.

It would have required, for example, the school board to go to the budget committee every time money was to be transferred from school buses to buy more books, or any other reorganization of a county department's spending plan.

"It's a good practice," Commissioner Larry McKnight said. "We have two big budgets here," he said of the county general fund of $11.36 million, and the school budget exceeding $30 million.

"If it's good for commercial business," McKnight said, "it's good for government."

County Attorney Ginger Shofner explained the authority sought would prohibit department directors such as the schools director, sheriff, clerks and others from spending money allocated for one thing on another without some review from a budget committee comprised of county commissioners.

Because counties get their authority from the Legislature, the resolution before the commission on Monday was to ask the county's delegation to sponsor a private act to increase the budget committee's power. Approval by lawmakers and a governor's signature doesn't confer the power. A second vote by the commission must ratify the new state law for the county.

The expansion of power wouldn't delay emergency action, said Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget committee.

Commissioner Mary Ann Neill said it would prevent department directors from "carrying over" money for one purpose to replenish funds in another budget account.

"I've found budgets that we've had to clean up," Neill said.

"To me," Commissioner Jimmy Stitt said, "this is a big thing."

Ultimately, Stitt and Commissioner Richard Medley abstained from voting, but there were more questions and answers.

Voting no were Commissioners Seth Warf, Phil Willis, Dean Delk, Scottie Poarch and E.W. Hill.

Voting yes were Commissioners King, McKnight, Neill, Don Ledford, Tony White, Reynelle Peacock Smith, Wilford Wentzel, Tony Williams, and Jimmy Wolaver.

Because there were only nine yes votes, the motion was declared to have failed for lack of a majority of the 18-member commission. Commissioner Billy Spivey was absent due to family and business matters. Commissioner Rocky Bowden was also absent.