Today is Thursday, August 24, 2017

Spending money first, then seeking approval angers council

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By PATRICK HALL
The Wilson Post

Members of the Lebanon City Council let two ordinances die for lack of a motion Tuesday night and Mayor Philip Craighead had to break ties in two other instances, all regarding line item transfers that were brought before the council after money has been spent or transferred.

In the past, the council has been quite vocal about line item transfers that are labeled after the fact, meaning the money has already been spent or transferred. Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler noted the council doesnt have to vote for or against those transfers because the money has already been spent.

It doesnt matter if we vote for it or not, its just a house cleaning thing so you look good to the auditors, Buhler told Commissioner of Finance and Revenue Russell Lee.

The first line item transfer that failed for lack of a motion involved a $1,200 transfer for a Water/Sewer bond to set up the expense for a 2011 bond issue. Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino said he is opposed to the line item policy, but said since the city has that policy, it needs to be followed and the council must approve transfers before they occur.

Craighead broke a tie on the next ordinance, involving a $500 transfer to set up a fund for bad debt expenses in the coming year for Water Customer Accounting. Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston, Cesternino and Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath voted against the measure. Craighead voted in favor and it passed 4-3.

A transfer of $1,760 from the Fire Department for Dues and Subscriptions for membership in a national organization that supplies the department with codes books and other items did not receive a motion from any of the councilors.

Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell told the council the dues are paid every three years and said Lee took the expense out of the 2011-2012 budget. Dowell said he included it in the budget because the expenses had to be paid in July. However, the council did not approve the budget until October.

It was actually late, I held it until August, Dowell said, adding that the dues were paid on Aug. 29.

The council was confused as to why the transfer was not placed on the agenda before that time. Lee said he removed the item from the new budget because he was told to return to a status quo budget by the council during their discussions.

However, Warmath noted that dues and fees are part of that status quo and said it should not have been removed. Huddleston said the transfer should have been brought up earlier than August.

If it was due in July, he held it until August, why didnt it come before us? Huddleston asked.

The mayor had to break a tie for a second time on a transfer for the Lebanon Police Department Drug Fund in the amount of $5,419 for rent and bank service charges. The ordinance indicated $4,100 was to be transferred after council approved the measure and $1,300 had already been spent before Tuesdays meeting.

Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen indicated the bank withdrew $19.50 from their account automatically and he was unaware of it until they received a monthly bank statement. He said they have not been getting budget sheets that they normally get from Lee.

Bowen said he did not know the department didnt have enough money in the fund to pay rent on a building that houses confiscated automobiles. He said if they had gotten the budget sheets, he would have known earlier they needed a line item transfer.

Youre supposed to keep track of what you spend, Scotty, Lee told him.

Buhler, Cesternino and Warmath voted against the ordinance and Craighead voted in favor, breaking the tie 4-3.

Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry asked City Attorney Andy Wright to give him a copy of the resolution that moved the city to a line item budget. That resolution was passed by the council on Feb. 3, 2009.

Wright said on Thursday that a resolution creates a policy, instead of a law and if the procedure is not followed, hedescribed that as a "policy violation." The resolution states that council approval is required for any line item adjustments that are not an emergency.

It sounds like something needs to change because were up here arguing about $300 to $400, Barry said.

Some members of the council pointed out department heads were violating the ordinance by spending money before the line item transfers are approved by the council. Cesternino told the department heads to notify the council beforehand so they are aware of transfers that need to be made.

Get the council involved in this, because this is what we spend the lions share of our time on up here, unfortunately, Cesternino said.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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