Courthouse

The Franklin County Legislative Committee unanimously approved on Oct. 10 to forward a resolution to the County Commission to create a budget committee.

The resolution could be voted on by the full County Commission as early as its 7 p.m. Oct. 21 meeting at the 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, David Eldridge and Carolyn Wiseman and County Mayor David 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 said that 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.

The Legislative Committee discussed how the terms could be handled.

A suggestion was made that the first serving commissioners could be on the Budget 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.

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 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 having to vote 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 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, 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 budget 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.