COUNTY COMMISSION

Calvert levels financial management criticisms

District 3 commissioner-elect Dean Calvert last week raised questions concerning management of county-roadbudget monies, particularly by outgoing commissioners Tom Ryan of District 3 and David Cochran of District 1.

Questions were triggered by the commission’s August allocation to each district of an additional $150,000 from roadand bridge-fund cash reserves. It was said commissioners took that action to offset high costs of repairs of road damage from record freezes in January.

Before voting additional funds, all four districts were projected to overspend their 2010 fiscal year road budgets, according to county administrator Ralph Mitchell.

According to commission records, the additional $150,000 will eliminate budget overruns in all except Robert Bullard’s District 2, which still shows a small overrun of about $12,500. Bullard said he expects to be able to reduce expenses to break even by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

Cochran and Ryan said the $150,000 allocation should enable them to end the year on target or with small surpluses, providing no major weather events occur causing damage to roads. District 4 Commissioner Waymon Pitts projects finishing the year with a comfortable surplus of approximately $75,000 following the special allocation.

Prohibit overspending

Calvert said procedures need to be put in place to prohibit commissioners from overspending their budgets. He said that is especially true of commissioners who are serving their final months in office, and who could conceivably leave their successors thousands of dollars short of the budgets to which they are entitled when they assume office.

He suggested implementing a rule that would prevent a commissioner leaving office from spending any more in one month that the average monthly amount required to make payroll and operate the district.

Enforce purchase order use

Calvert noted that purchase orders are required to authorize expenditures for all county projects, but that purchase orders had not been submitted for a number of expenditures this year.

“They normally have to use purchase orders to order anything in the commissioner’s office but for some reason this year, the purchase order became obsolete.

“The administrator can’t control expenditures if they don’t use purchase orders and only two of the four districts use them,” Calvert said.

Mitchell said that he was aware of only three instances where purchase orders for road projects were not obtained: one project in Ryan’s District 3 and two in Bullard’s District 2. All three were for substantial sums ranging from $110,000 to $164,000.

All appeared to have occurred because of misunderstandings as to who was responsible for obtaining the purchase orders for asphalt – the commissioner involved or the county engineer – and whether purchase orders were technically necessary or not.

County engineer Richard Spraggins said purchase orders have not been required in the past for asphalt, since it is requsitioned on an annual bid basis. Mitchell said auditors have recommended that purchase orders be used for all purchases.

Set limits on incurring debt

Calvert also noted that both districts 1 and 3 have substantial debt for heavy equipment purchases that they pay with monthly installments from district road budgets. That constitutes a drain, he said, on the amount of money available to do paving, potholing, and other road maintenance work.

He said the District 3 job he will assume has some $200,000 in equipment debt that is not scheduled to pay off until 2013. He said there should be a rule prohibiting any commissioner from obligating his district for debt that extends beyond his own term of office.

Limit conference trips for outgoing officials

Calvert added a final criticism: “We also need to work on commissioners leaving office who continue to take unnecessary trips to conferences and seminars before they go out of office.”

He noted the recent trip to a national convention in Reno, Nevada, taken by District 1 Commissioner David Cochran. (Cochran was reimbursed $1479 for travel, lodging, and meals for that trip, according to commission records.)

Calvert added that any benefit from the meetings will be lost to the county since the commissioner is leaving office. He said Cochran has already been to two seminars paid for by the county since his election defeat in June.

He said that commissioners are attending a conference at Perdido Beach (the annual Alabama County Commis-sion Association conference) this week. He questioned the benefit to the county since two of them will leave office in November.

According to commission records, the total cost reimbursed to three commissioners and the county administrator for last year’s ACCA meeting at the same location was $4377. Mitchell said the commission had budgeted $34,600 for conference expenses for this year. To date, as a result of the emphasis on cost control, it has spent only $7272, he said. Adding next week’s seminar expenses to money already spent would result in total expenditures of about $12,000, or about onethird of the amount budgeted.

Referring to upcoming commission meetings in September to plan the 2011 fiscal year budget, Calvert had these observations: “We have people voting on budgets for next year that can’t even keep their own budgets in order. We’re going into those planning sessions with commissioners who are leaving office, who will no longer be responsible to taxpayers next year, and may not have the county’s best interests at heart. We need to make changes to protect taxpayers’ interests.”