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Unicoi County steps back from central accounting

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Mar 26, 2018 at 10:02 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission on Monday backed away from its earlier decision to centralize the county’s accounting.

In a split 5-to-4 vote on a resolution to adopt Tennessee’s 1957 County Budgeting Law, the commission reversed its February decision to establish a central office for accounting procedures for all county offices with the exclusion of schools.

Eric Hall, with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, told the commission last month the law sets out the framework and procedures for an independent accounting department led by a financial director appointed by the mayor.

Coupled with county budgeting and county purchasing laws, Hall told the commission the legislation creates a system of checks and balances under which a financial director works with county officeholders and a budget committee to develop budget proposals and obtain the county attorney’s legal review of all contracts before they are brought before the commission for authorization.

Mayor Greg Lynch recommended the independent accounting office in February, saying the centralized procedures would create a higher level of efficiency less influenced by politics, and also meet the need for an additional employee to handle various accounting duties.

As the commission deliberated the new department again on Monday, Lynch repeated that the county will need an additional accounting staff member regardless of its decision on creation of central accounting department. “That’s coming,” Lynch said.

Commissioner Glenn White acknowledged he supported the centralized accounting measures in February, but said on Monday he had had a change of heart based on its cost and a greater than expected expenditure for a county ambulance service.

“It’s going to cost $100,000. It’s a want, not a need. And with the cost of ambulance (service), I think we need to hold off on extending government,” White said.

“Last month I voted this up because I thought we were going to get ambulance (service) for $138,000. Now it’s going to cost us $1.4 million for ambulance (service).”

County Highway Superintendent Terry Haynes asked if he could exclude his department from the new accounting procedures and was told he could not.

Haynes explained that when a piece of heavy equipment breaks down in the middle of a road work project, he has up to six employees standing and waiting for him to return with parts for the repair. Haynes then asked if he would have to hire and train an additional staff member to take his request for parts to a county purchasing agent.

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice told Haynes the new procedures would allow for emergency expenditures.

With Haynes’ concerns, Commissioner Bridget Peters suggested the matter be tabled until all county officeholders could be briefed on the new accounting procedures and their questions answered.

“I voted for this. I think it would be good for our county. But the officeholders need more explanation,” she said.

With Commissioner Kenneth Garland’s motion to adopt the accounting law on the table and Garland, who supported the measure as a way to remove politics from accounting, refusing to withdraw his motion in order to allow the matter to be tabled, the matter proceeded to a vote.

Commissioner John Mosley agreed with White, saying “We need to put this money into an ambulance service.”

Commissioner Loren Thomas opposed the measure as a “$100,000 expansion of government” he said the county could not afford.

Commissioner Gene Wilson said he could not support central accounting with Haynes and other county officeholders advising him they are opposed.

The motion to adopt the Central Accounting Law was defeated with White, Peters, Mosley, Thomas and Wilson opposed and Garland, Rice and Commissioners Jason Harris and Todd Wilcox voting in favor.

Immediately following the vote, Peters made a motion to table discussion of adoption of the two subsequent county budgeting and purchasing laws. The motion passed in another 5-to-4 vote with Peters, Garland, Harris, Rice and Wilcox in favor and Mosley, Thomas, Wilson and White opposed.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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