Board of Ed dislikes bill to streamline county finances
By Karen Sells
While the resolution is a working document at this point, Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the proposed legislation has been a topic of discussion for some time among members of the BOE Finance Committee.
“The general discussion has been a dissatisfaction with accepting it,” he said.
The act being considered by the General Assembly would allow counties to establish a central Finance Department responsible for the accounting, budgeting, purchasing, debt management, grant management, payroll and cash management of all county departments, including the Department of Education.
According to Dykes, potential negative effects of the act from the school board’s point of view include loss of financial autonomy to make day-to-day decisions on purchasing. “And the (school system’s) finance department simply vanishes,” he added.
The school board’s draft resolution states the purchasing and finance needs of education are different from the procedures of other county departments, and urges state legislators representing Washington County to withhold support for the bill.
The state comptroller’s office refers to the County Financial Management System of 2013 as a tool for modernization.
Advantages of a centralized financial management system, according to state leaders, include reduced duplication of accounting services; increased purchasing efficiencies due to volume discounts and standardized bidding, purchasing and receiving procedures; improved access to information by standardizing and centralizing accounting records, as well as improved financial reporting and transparency for all departments; and improved countywide planning for cash asset and debt management.
According to Mayor Dan Eldridge, the act would consolidate financial services into one countywide department, but the process in which the BOE manages its budget would not change.
“One thing this would do is involve the school board more in the financial management of the county,” Eldridge said. “They have never had any impact in the county’s finances outside of the schools.”
Under guidelines of the proposed act, the county-wide finance director would be appointed by the county mayor and confirmed by the county commission.
An advisory Finance Committee would be created with the following seven members: the county mayor; chief administrator of the county highway department; director of schools; three members of the county legislative body; and one member of the county Board of Education.
“This would go a long way in eliminating the back-and-forth between the county commission and the Board of Education on the budget,” Eldridge said. “In addition, it would increase the accountability, transparency and efficiency of the budget process.”
Other areas of the county would feel little impact from the adoption of the act, he said.
Still, Eldridge is not surprised with the initial resistance.
“It’s dramatic change, and it will take some time to get everyone comfortable with it,” he said. “But this act would benefit the school system more than anyone else in county government.”
If passed by the General Assembly, the act could be in effect July 1, with the goal of being fully implemented by the start of fiscal 2015-16. A two-thirds majority approval by the county commission would be required for Washington County to adopt the act.