A Franklin County Commission decision to form a special budget committee is on hold until the Dec. 2 meeting to gather more information on how it would operate.
Franklin County Mayor David Alexander said on Oct. 31 that a resolution, which could have been considered by the commission on Oct. 21, was not placed on the agenda because pending questions needed to be answered.
“We had to get the language exactly right,” he said, adding that questions about how the commissioners would serve on the committee midway through their terms needs to be addressed.
The Legislative Committee discussed on Oct. 10 how the terms could be handled and unanimously approved to forward a resolution to the County Commission to create a budget committee.
A suggestion was made that the first serving commissioners could be on the committee for the first two years of their four-year terms, then each district’s other commissioner would serve the remaining two years.
However, members questioned what would happen if the committee were formed this fiscal year which would leave the serving commissioners with three years remaining in their current terms.
Commissioner David Eldridge suggested that the first eight commissioners on the committee could serve the remaining three years in their terms, then the two-year terms could begin after the next election cycle.
Alexander said the resolution needs to clearly define how that process will work.
The county’s intentions have been forwarded to the Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service, an agency of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service that provides assistance and training to county officials and employees in Tennessee, for guidance.
Alexander said Charles Curtiss, Tennessee County Commissioners Association executive director, has detailed first-hand knowledge about how county budget committees operate throughout the state, and he will be at the Dec. 2 meeting to answer any questions the commissioners have about forming a budget committee.
Alexander said the resolution to form the committee will already be drafted, and the commission could consider it that evening. The commission will meet at 7 p.m. at the Franklin County Courthouse.
At present, the county has the Finance Committee that deals with sorting through budget details.
It is comprised of County Commissioners Barbara Finney, Scottie Riddle, Eldridge, Carolyn Wiseman and Mayor Alexander, and it also includes Director of Schools Stanley Bean and Highway Superintendent Johnny Woodall.
Alexander, Finney, Eldridge and Wiseman are also on the Legislative Committee.
Alexander had said the Finance Committee has only four commissioners on it which means only four of the county commission’s eight districts are being represented.
Each of the eight commission districts are represented by two county commissioners, he added.
Alexander suggested that a budget committee should include one commissioner from each district so that all districts are uniformly represented. He added that the decision on which commissioner from each district should serve could be decided between the two respective commissioners in each district.
Alexander said he believes a budget committee is necessary because the county faced a difficult financial situation this past year, and he believes the process could have gone more smoothly if a budget committee had been considering all the details earlier in the annual budget-forming process.
Eldridge said the recent budget problems were compounded by financial issues that have been developing for several years, combined with the commission voting to fund two new middle school projects that totaled $48 million.
He added that the county’s financial problems aren’t going away, and commissioners will have to repeatedly deal with them.
Alexander said Franklin County is the only county its size in the state that doesn’t have a designated budget committee. He added that the process has worked well in the counties that have them.
Legislative Committee members also expressed concern about all 16 commissioners being elected to four-year terms in the same year and how large-scale personnel changes could affect the budget process.
Alexander said it could be devastating if most of the commission changed during one election cycle, and those with considerable experience handling complicated budgets were no longer there to deal with them.
The Legislative Committee agreed to consult with CTAS to see how the election cycle could be changed to staggered terms so that only a few commission seats could change in a given year.
Alexander said those serving on the Budget Committee should go through extensive training so they thoroughly understand financial matters before making key decisions that could have lasing impacts on the county.
Alexander, who was the Tennessee District 39 state representative before becoming county mayor, referred to the General Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee which he said is the most powerful committee in the state because of the magnitude of the financial issues it has to deal with.
He said the county’s Budget Committee would be in a similar capacity at the local level.
Eldridge said the current Finance Committee could still exist, but it would deal with issues aside from determining and setting the budget.