Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series regarding District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush’s views on county finances and changes in how the monthly meetings are conducted.
At the October Wilson County Commission Meeting, District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush rose to comment on how in his opinion the General Fund is “being depleted rapidly” less than 90 days into the current fiscal year.
Following the Oct. 21 meeting, Bush contacted The Wilson Post and said he would like to explain his comments at the meeting.
At the meeting, Bush said, “A whole series of amounts adds up bit by bit by bit. I wanted to raise this because sometimes it’s easy to lose track as all these amounts add up. It’s real money. It’s real cash.
“As we yes to these things, it means sometime later in the year, the possibility is that we’re going to have to say no to other things that may or may not be more important.”
Bush’s comments came following the approval by the county commission for additional key fobs in the Judicial Center, sheriff’s department and Criminal Justice Center; moving money within the Drug Court’s own budget; purchasing equipment for the sheriff’s department and two parcels of land adjacent to the jail for immediate parking needs and future expansion of the jail.
Budget Committee Chair and District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice explained that none of the funds were coming out of the county’s General Fund, but from monies that can only be used within specific parameters.
“This money, if we don’t spend it on this, you can’t spend it for anything else,” Justice explained.
On Tuesday, Bush said he stands by his comments and that he doesn’t dispute what Justice said.
“My point was a broad one, a 30,000-foot view of what’s going on, in trying to make people aware that all of these little resolutions of x-thousands of dollars, in fact, have a cumulative impact on the county budget,” Bush said.
“I just wanted to make people aware, as I became aware in looking at the numbers and studying them, that is adding up fast,” said the Mt. Juliet resident who is in his second term in office.
Bush, who holds a master’s of business administration from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, also questioned whether the items were identified back in the spring during the needs assessment aspect of the budget process, given that the county is only three months into the new fiscal year that began July 1.
Wilson County Finance Director Aaron Maynard explained that many of the items that approved by the commission were items that were requested after enough money in those reserve accounts had been collected.
“I think you’re better off to do most things that way – save enough in the reserve accounts before you spend it,” Maynard said. “Your alternative would be to issue a capital outlay note or something to borrow the money and pay it back with those proceeds.”
However, Maynard noted that doing so would incur interest costs.
Bush, who as the chief financial officer for Digital Technology International for five years was responsible for the global financial control of one of the largest providers of software to the publishing industry, has a suggestion for making the county’s financial position simpler to understand for county commissioners and the public.
“I recommended to Aaron before this last meeting that he develop a simple spreadsheet,” said Bush, who stated that he had created one on his computer and used it to track expenditures.
He said that the finance department does “a superb job for the county” in providing the commission with massive amounts of detail. However, in his opinion, what is needed “is a high level executive summary with some evaluative comments by the finance director.
“I think he’s hesitate to provide an opinion unless he’s specifically asked. I suggested to him, ‘My goodness, man, you’re our CFO. You’ve got to provide an opinion before we spend the money, before we vote. You’re the objective pro. You’ve got no axe to grind.”
Maynard said while his department gives a financial report every month that does give an updated fund balance, he agreed with Bush “that there’s a way we can do it that’s going to be easily accessible to everyone, and I’m going to work on that.”
However, he said that a lot of the money approved at the October meeting comes out of reserve funds and is not reported in the General Fund balance.
What we report in the fund balance is unassigned,” Maynard said. “It’s money that we use for about anything. The other areas of fund balance that we don’t report are reserve accounts that are like a litigation tax, for example, that is restricted for courtroom security. It can’t be used for anything but courtroom security projects.
“It’s not really going to have any impact on the bottom line. But we do need to come up with something to show that to the commissioners so they have a better feel for it.”