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Commissioners vote against increasing mayor’s authority

Despite being the only county in the state that does not allow its mayor to approve budget line item amendments, commissioners refused to request the General Assembly give the same ability to Mayor Dan Eldridge.
Washington County operates under the Budgeting Law of 1957, which requires action by the Board of County Commissioners to approve budget changes during the fiscal year after the initial budget is approved.
In 1991, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted new provisions with specific guidelines that allow the county mayor and Budget Committee to amend the budget without seeking approval from the full commission.
The discovery that Washington County was excluded from those provisions has the full commission considering multiple resolutions for the transfers of approved dollars among lines within the same departmental budget. In many cases, the transfers are less than $50.
During the Aug. 16 meeting of the Budget Committee, Commissioner Joe Grandy shared a request from the Purchasing Committee to create a resolution that would allow the mayor to approve line item transfers that involve no new money.
Grandy made a motion to recommend the county commission request the General Assembly amend the budget law provisions to include Washington County.
“We spend hours poring over resolutions,” Grandy said. “And during the time we’re horsing around trying to transfer, bills aren’t being paid.”
Commissioner Ethan Flynn seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
But the recommendation was met with resistance from the full board when considered during the commission’s August meeting.
Commissioner Sam Humphreys said a limit should be set regarding the mayor’s ability to approve transfers.
“The law sets the limit,” Eldridge said, referring to the guidelines that restrict the mayor’s approval of amendments to line items within a major category, with the exception of personnel costs and amendments affecting the administration and expenses of the county commission.
“We’re spending hours moving small amounts of money when we should be spending time on the budget,” Grandy added.
Humphreys argued he still wants a clause limiting the dollar amount of individual transfers. He gave the hypothetical example of a piece of equipment being purchased without prior approval and paid for after the fact through a transfer approved by Eldridge if he were given that authority.
County Attorney John Rambo questioned the need for setting a limit.
“The law we’re working under does not have a threshold,” he said.
The resolution failed 14-to-10 with Humphreys abstaining.
Commissioners opposed to allowing Washington County to operate under the same provisions as the remaining 94 counties in the state are Greg Matherly, Doyle Cloyd, Joe Sheffield, Alpha Bridger, Sam Phillips, Richard Matherly, Mark Ferguson, Gearld Sparks, Mike Ford, Mark Larkey, Roger Nave, Ben Bowman, Steve Light and David Shanks.
A motion by Commissioner Lee Chase, seconded by Commissioner David Tomita, will return the resolution to the Budget Committee for clarification regarding a limit.