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Commissioners approve budget request to General Assembly

Commissioners gave unanimous approval during their Oct. 27 meeting to the resolution that requests the General Assembly include Washington County in the general law provisions related to budgeting procedures.
The change, initially recommended by the Legal Services Oversight Committee, would allow the county mayor to approve amendments to the operating budget adopted by the full commission.
Washington County operates under the Budgeting Law of 1957, which currently requires action by the Board of County Commissioners to approve budget changes during the fiscal year.
In 1991, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted new provisions with specific guidelines that allow the county mayor to amend the budget without seeking approval from the Budget Committee or the full commission, but Washington County was excluded from the provisions for an unknown reason.
Under the provisions, the mayor’s approval of amendments is restricted to line items within a major category, with the exception of personnel costs and amendments affecting the administration and expenses of the county commission. Approval of new spending also is not allowed.
In addition to placing Washington County under the same budgeting guidelines as the state’s other 94 counties, the change would reduce the amount of time spent by the county attorney in preparing multiple resolutions for the monthly commission meetings.
Commissioner Lee Chase made a motion to approve the resolution during last week’s meeting, which was seconded by Commissioner Rick Storey.
Commissioner Robbie Tester asked why the second paragraph of the resolution lists three potential designees to approve budget amendments, which include the local legislative body, the county mayor and the local Budget Committee.
Interim County Attorney Tom Seeley said the 1991 provisions to the Budgeting Law of 1957 did not allow Washington County to choose any option, and referred Tester to the fourth graph of the resolution, which indicates the county is trying to choose the second option.
“The Budget Committee is recommending the mayor be allowed to do it,” Commissioner Mitch Meredith confirmed.
Commissioner Tom Foster called for the question, and the motion passed in a unanimous voice vote. Commissioner Matthew Morris was absent from the meeting, and Commissioners Sam Humphreys and Steve Light left prior to the vote.
When the same request was proposed two years ago, the motion failed 14 to 10, pointing to the almost even divide in opinion among the former board members.
“I think (the approval) is indicative of this commission’s intent to make county government more efficient,” Eldridge said. “Even though it’s a change to an internal process, it would save taxpayer dollars.”
If approved, Eldridge said the change would essentially give him the authority to work with individual officeholders to move approved dollars within their budget lines when unexpected circumstances come up, which happens several times a year.
“It would allow me to take action regarding unexpected expenses without having to slow down or stop the process in the office,” he said. “It does not authorize the county mayor to budget more money.”
Eldridge said the 1991 provisions to the budgeting law were adopted to make the process more manageable, and it is not a responsibility he could assign to another staff member.
An answer from the General Assembly to the request would not be expected before April 2015, he said..