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Ferguson challenges Highway Department’s request for fund transfer

Washington County Commissioner Mark Ferguson challenged the Budget Committee’s authority to approve line item transfers in the Highway Department budget during the Oct. 16 meeting.
Ferguson opposed a resolution transferring $255,000 from the Highway Department’s fund balance to cover the purchase of asphalt hot mix and tackless tack to finish the fall paving schedule.
“As chairman of the Public Works Committee, this request has never been brought before the committee, and I would recommend it be returned to committee,” he said. “If we’re not going to follow the rules, there’s no sense in having committees.”
Mayor Dan Eldridge explained the request was coming through the Budget Committee, which is, in fact, the process followed when a department head requests a transfer of funds from one line to another in an approved budget.
“Let’s let the county attorney determine that,” Ferguson said, adding the request involves new money.
Eldridge said every dime in the Highway Fund is restricted by law for use on county roads.
“What you’re doing is designating some of the money to purchase tackless tack and asphalt?” he asked Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins.
Deakins confirmed, adding he has followed the same process in requesting line item transfers for 23 years.
“I challenge your decision,” Ferguson argued.
Eldridge asked the Budget Committee to make a recommendation on whether to follow the current process or send the resolution to the Public Works Committee. No one responded.
“You’re giving (Deakins) a blank check,” Ferguson insisted.
Eldridge then asked if any member of the Budget Committee wanted to make a motion to not consider the resolution. Again, no one said a word.
Commissioner Pete Speropulos then made a motion to approve the resolution for line item transfers in the Highway Department budget. Commissioner Joe Grandy seconded, and the motion passed unanimously with Eldridge and Commissioners Mitch Meredith and Ethan Flynn also voting.
Ferguson continued to argue, but Eldridge brought the discussion to an end.
“I think everyone understands what’s going on with the Highway Department and Public Works, and we’re not getting into it at this meeting,” Eldridge said, referring to what seems to be an ongoing power struggle between the committee and Deakins.
But Ferguson said his problem wasn’t with Deakins.
“I don’t have a problem with the highway superintendent, I have a problem with you,” Ferguson said to Eldridge. “You’re the one who’s giving the money out.”