Error forces delay in county budget process

Published 8:26 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

County Budget Graphic
When the County Commission convenes next week, it will not be considering the county’s annual budget. The public hearing scheduled for Monday had to be canceled when budget committee members failed to approve a correction to the debt service fund.
Before the public hearing on the county’s 2015-16 budget, members of the budget committee convened for their regular monthly meeting. The reason for holding the committee meeting before the public hearing, Chairwoman Sonja Culler said, was so the committee could approve a correction to the budget.
Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told members of the committee she made a mistake when preparing the documents on the debt service portion of the county budget and accidentally omitted the figures for one of the county’s contracted debt payments.
To correct the mistake, Deloach told members of the committee they would need to approve a correction to the budget that would allow the county to take that funding from the debt service fund balance, which would not require a tax increase.
After the explanation by Deloach, a motion to approve the correction failed on a vote of 4-3 with committee members Culler, Ross Garland, Buford Peters and L.C. Tester voting in favor and members Nancy Brown, Robert Carroll and Ronnie Trivett opposing the correction. Committee member John Lewis was absent from the meeting.
After the vote, Deloach told members since the correction had failed to pass, the public hearing on the budget could not be held because the debt service budget still needed to be corrected.
Carroll asked if the committee could hold the public hearing and then make the debt service budget correction when the full County Commission considers the budget.
“That is what we’ve had problems with in the past because we’ve changed the debt service after the public hearing,” Culler said.
According to Culler, if the committee failed to approve the correction to the debt service budget, the public hearing would have to be canceled. Without a public hearing, she said, the budget could not be presented to the full Commission during its monthly meeting July 20.
Under state law, counties that operate under the Financial Management Act of 1981 — such as Carter County — must have their annual budget approved no later than the third Monday in July, which this year is July 20.
“I’m not sure how that will affect us,” Culler said.
Peters made a motion to vote on the matter again and encouraged his fellow committee members to approve the correction.
“If you don’t pass this we are going to have to have another meeting and you all are all about saving money,” he said.
The second vote passed by a margin of 5-2 with Culler, Carroll, Garland, Peters and Tester voting in favor and Brown and Trivett opposing.
Following that vote, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey stood up and asked if the vote had been to reconsider the motion or to approve it. There was some confusion among the committee members as to how the motion had actually been worded, but Peters said his intent was to have the correction approved.
A third vote was then held, and the correction again failed on a vote of 4-3 with Brown, Carroll and Trivett once again opposing the correction.
Because of the confusion, surrounding the votes, the committee took a brief recess to allow Garland, the committee secretary, to review the audio recording of the meeting with County Attorney Josh Hardin.
When the committee reconvened, it was announced the correction vote had failed.
Culler and Deloach then determined the earliest a new committee meeting could be scheduled would be for Tuesday, July 21 at 6 p.m. That would set the earliest date for a public hearing on the budget as July 31 and would push approval of the budget into the month of August.

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