The 2014-15 budget for Bradley County government appears to be headed for approval, but commissioners will begin taking a look at the expenses departments use for travel.
Fourth District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones broached the subject during the Commission’s work session Monday afternoon.
She noted the Election Commission had been brought in to discuss what she termed “excessive travel expenses” in the department’s budget.
The Commission’s travel budget was $8,399 in 2012-13. It had requested $8,500 for the next fiscal year, but County Mayor D. Gary Davis’ final budget shows the expense was held to the 2013-14 level of $8,000.
“I don’t know if anything has been resolved in that, but looking across the entire travel budget for the whole county it seems some departments go above and beyond to cut their travel expenses,” Peak-Jones said.
She mentioned the Emergency Management Agency whose personnel, she said, “don’t stay overnight.”
“They go and come back to try and save taxpayer money,” she said.
She said the question was asked during previous budget sessions whether there were “nonessential people” going on some of the required meetings.
“We never got a definitive answer, but I did find out from the association that puts these things on that the only one required to attend is the administrator of the Election Commission,” Peak-Jones said. “We did bring [Election Commission Director Fran Green] in here and ask her that. So, why are we approving a budget when she brings extra people to those required meetings?”
She inquired of the other commissioners if there was a need for a resolution or a revision of the county’s travel policy.
“I understand $1,000 here or $2,000 there is not going to build Lake Forest school, but it sure as heck is going to build a rapport with the taxpayers,” Peak-Jones said. “If we have to go through everybody’s travel budget, do we do that or just change the entire policy where it is just essential people only?”
She said she expected to “catch a lot of flack from a lot of people on this, but I really don’t care.”
“Are we going to set a policy or just get stonewalled again and not do anything?” Peak-Jones asked.
She said personnel should not assume they should stay at the anchor hotel at which the meetings are held “for $300 a night when a [lower-priced motel] is right across the street for $89 a night.”
She added she did not think the Election Commission was not trying to save taxpayer money.
“But, a thousand here and a thousand there sure goes a heck of a long way after awhile,” Peak-Jones said. “All I hear is that we waste money. I’m willing to make a motion today.”
Second District Commissioner Connie Wilson suggested cutting the Election Commission travel by 50 percent and moving the difference to the general fund balance.
“If there are issues later, [the election director] is welcome to appeal to the finance committee,” Wilson said.
Vice Chairman J. Adam Lowe noted there were several travel budgets involved throughout county government.
“Are we prepared to reduce everybody’s travel budget by 50 percent and have them come back and ask for travel?” Lowe asked. “I think Peak-Jones is on to something here, but to single one department out at this point in the budget cycle might be counterproductive. I’d almost be willing to bet there is another travel budget that is probably even more inflated than the Election Commission.”
He said in order to look at saving money it was necessary to “look at the problem.”
Fifth District commissioner Jeff Yarber expressed agreement with Lowe.
“You don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction,” Yarber said. “You want to make an educated decision.”
Commissioners accepted the recommendation of 6th District Commissioner Mel Griffith that the matter be taken up at the next work session scheduled for June 23.
The Commission did formally approve an ad hoc committee to review septic permit procedures and residential building codes which met briefly after the Commission session to set up its future discussions.
Also approved was a continuing budget resolution which funds the government through July 7 when the Cmmission is scheduled to cast a final vote on the proposed budget.
Davis said the budget would be posted on the county’s website.