Bowers on budget: ‘It’s definitely not illegal’

Published 1:12 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

Bowers-QuoteIn the wake of Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s veto of the county budget, County Commission Chairman Tom “Yogi” Bowers is defending the budget and maintains the action taken by the commission was not illegal as the mayor claimed.
“It’s definitely not illegal,” Bowers said. “I don’t know where the mayor is getting that.”
During the commission’s meeting on Monday the group passed a budget containing amendments to the budget proposed by the budget committee. One of those amendments changed the amount of funding allocated to the county’s debt service.
At that meeting, and again when announcing the veto, Humphrey said the change to the debt service portion of the budget violated state law. He cited a state statute as well as an opinion by the state attorney general, which he said supported his position.
According to both the statute and the opinion by the state attorney general: “The county legislative body may alter or revise the proposed budget except as to the provision for debt service requirements and for other expenditures required by law.”
This is not the first time legal questions have been raised about the county’s budget process and funding of debt service. Last year, Humphrey vetoed the budget passed by the commission, citing the same legal concerns about debt service funding. His veto was overturned.
“We went down this same road last year,” Bowers said. “If it was illegal, don’t you think the state comptroller’s office, or whoever, would have come in?”
The budget committee’s proposed budget called for an additional 12 cents of the tax rate to be allocated to the debt service fund. That appropriation was put into the budget on the advice of County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach, who reported in several budget committee meetings the 12 cent increase was needed to balance the debt service fund.
Bowers said the amended budget actually put in 20 cents – 10 cents shifted from the general fund to debt service and the 10 cents added to the tax rate and earmarked for a capital outlay project to fund architect fees for a proposed new middle school.
“The mayor says we are not funding debt service, but we are actually putting more money into debt service,” Bowers said.
The commission chairman also addressed claims by Humphrey the amended budget created a deficit in funding and would mandate a tax increase next year.
“There is no deficit. That is strictly rollover money,” Bowers said. He added that funds transferred from the general fund to debt service would be replaced by the approximately $800,000 left over money from the 2013-2014 budget that is being returned to the general fund by the various departments.
“Nothing is mandated for next year,” Bowers said. “This commission cannot make the next commission do anything.”
According to Bowers, the budget passed by the commission on Monday had a lower tax increase than the budget proposed by the committee, which the mayor supports. He said the proposed budget would have set the tax rate at $2.47 cents and contained no money for the school project. He added the amended budget set the rate at $2.45 and “would provide a stepping stone for a future school, a much-needed school in Stoney Creek.”
Bowers said he believes there was another reason behind Humphrey’s decision to veto the budget.
“It is just a political maneuver by the mayor right here at election time,” Bowers said.
The commission chairman was not the only person to express that opinion on Thursday.
“I think (the veto) is probably a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer’s money,” said state Rep. Kent Williams, who is opposing Humphrey in the August general election. “I think it was done for political reasons,” he added.
Williams said he did not believe the mayor’s veto of the budget serves the needs of the public.
“We’ve got to have a special called meeting now, which will be an increased cost to the taxpayers,” he said. County commissioners are paid $100 for each meeting they attend so the cost for all 24 commissioners to attend a meeting is $2,400.
When asked about the state attorney general’s opinion regarding the legality of reducing debt service funding after a public hearing, Williams said “I respect his opinion, but in my eight years in the state legislature I’ve seen a lot of opinions. I’ve seen some that he’s been proven right and some that he’s been proven wrong.”
Williams cited last year’s budget proceedings, which saw similar cuts and legal questions. “They did the same thing last year and nothing came of it,” he said. “I think the majority of the commissioners are looking out for the taxpayers and trying to keep the tax rate low.”
The County Commission will meet in a special called meeting on Thursday, July 31, at 9 a.m. Bowers said the agenda for the meeting will be the “consideration of mayoral veto” of the budget resolutions.

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