Disputed half a million in budget

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, December 17, 2014

But can it be spent?

They’re saying it’s there, but are not going to spend it, at least for now.

That’s what happened to the $500,000 at the center of a dispute between county auditor Jason Stephens and commission president Les Boggs and two members of the budget commission on who decides how much money the county can spend at any given year.

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“We haven’t spent the money,” commissioner Bill Pratt said. “If it can be, OK.”

Boggs wanted half a million more before the commissioners would vote on the 2015 budget to fund part of the move of the county jail to a state-owned facility in Scioto County. Without a budget in place, no county employee could be paid in the new year.

Stephens contended, however, as the county’s fiscal officer the revenue certification or official stamp on how much money will come into the county during the year. He said the data didn’t warrant an increase.

On Monday two members of the budget commission overruled him in a vote whose legality was also disputed by the participants.

Now apparently both sides are winners. The commissioners voted to pass a budget with the $500,000 in it, but did not allocate how it would be spent. That means they passed a budget that allocated all the funds in Stephens’ certification and nothing more.

“This budget is within the certification on file,” Stephens said after a 90-minute meeting where the debate focused on who has the fiscal authority of the county.

In October the budget commission, made up of Stephens, the county treasurer and the county prosecutor, certified that the county would get $10.7 million in revenue for the administrative portion of the general fund.

But Boggs and County commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. formally asked the budget commission for half a million dollars more. The commissioners cannot spend any money that has not been certified by the budget commission.

At the budget commission meeting on Monday, county prosecutor Brigham Anderson conducted the roll call on a vote to add the money after chief deputy auditor Chris Kline refused to call the vote. Anderson and county treasurer Stephen Burcham voted in favor of the change. Stephens declined to participate in the vote.

“It is my understanding with a 2-0 vote the budget commission approved a $11.2 million budget with that extra $500,000,” Boggs said at the start of the meeting.

Stephens responded that the October certification is on file and remains unchanged.

“That does stir some questions,” Boggs said. “What use is it to have two of the three budget commission members if the budget commission has no authority? … The budget commission is in place to make changes.”

“I believe I am right,” Stephens said. “If not, we will have to go down that road. It is my role as county auditor and I have a duty to abide by it.”

Earlier this year all three commissioners voted to move the jail out of the county to a facility that is in compliance with state regulations. The current jail has been under fire for some time for its failure to meet state standards.

If the move isn’t made, the state could drastically reduce the number of inmates that could be housed at the county jail. However, that would take a court case filed in Lawrence County, which could possibly take up to a year to be decided.

If the census were cut, the county would have to pay for other jails to house their prisoners.

Boggs said that could cost the county more than $900,000.

“Mr. Stephens, what would be the cost to us if we do not go down to (Scioto County)?” Boggs asked.

“What I can do is comfortably say what is the revenue,” Stephens said.

It is the commissioners’ role to decide how that revenue is spent, the auditor told Boggs.

“We tried to look at all the options,” Boggs said. “We voted to do it. It is our obligation to put our money where our mouth is. Sales tax has raised consistently.”

“The certification is the best I can determine at this point,” Stephens said. “I want to make sure we are able to function as a county. My best effort is to provide an accurate accounting of the whole resources.”

“I was elected to make decisions,” Boggs said. “The budget commission has set $11.2 million, until someone shows me differently.”

“Do you have a signed certificate?” Kline asked. “No vote was called.”

“There was a vote,” Anderson said.

After a recess when the $500,000 was put into the budget as unallocated, Boggs requested a roll call with each commissioner voting yes.

Now with the budget in place, any dispute on the allocation of the $500,000 would not affect payroll or funding the county government.