WILMINGTON — The county engineer is concerned a pending requirement to take all county department fund transfers through the commissioners office could delay his ability to order time-sensitive materials like additional winter salt or items to deal with unforeseen problems on a road project.
Wednesday’s discussion took place at a meeting to clarify the commissioners’ action to go back to having a line item budget where county department heads must seek and receive commissioners’ prior approval for all transfers of the funds appropriated by commissioners Dec. 19.
“It makes a difference for us to be able to operate day to day, and not have a delay in ordering materials, equipment, whatever we need. That’s our worry,” said Clinton County Engineer Jeff Linkous.
Clinton County Commissioner Brenda K. Woods started the discussion with an explanation for the change. She said the main job of a county commissioner is to oversee the county budget.
“We should be able to answer to the public why we appropriate [funds for line item expenditures] and what we appropriate,” said Woods.
She feels having more clarity on all line items will put commissioners in a better position to look toward the future and know what the spending needs of individual departments are.
Woods added she doesn’t feel like she could really look ahead that way, given the way budget line items can change without the matter being brought to the commissioners office ahead of time.
Sounding a similar note, Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed said, “Being able to look forward and forecast, especially when we’ve been in a deficit [budget] and we’re spending down our carryover, it is of vital importance for this board [of commissioners] to have a true understanding of the budget, and where our expenses and revenues are going to be.”
Clinton County Commissioners President Patrick Haley was not present at the Wednesday meeting with county auditor’s staffers and the county engineer.
Linkous suggested a compromise: Keep non-personnel line items under the previous system where the department head, staying within the overall sum of money appropriated to the department, had the ability to open up a purchase order or add to a purchase order to meet pressing needs.
“To address it [any issues on fund transfers], in my opinion, by moving us backwards where we were three or four years ago, that was cumbersome. And that makes it harder for us to operate, and we’re trying to operate the most efficiently we can. We have no problem with you [commissioners] seeing everything we transfer [in review],” said the engineer.
Linkous added if commissioners are having issues with certain county departments, he wishes they would address those departments instead of doing something that affects everybody.
Assistant Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew McCoy, who serves as legal counsel for the county, attended the session. He said it’s lawful to require commissioners’ approval prior to fund transfers among personnel line items — such as full-time salaries, Medicare, retirement benefits, or health insurance — without also requiring the same thing for transfers among non-personnel line items.
Clinton County Auditor Terence “Terry” G. Habermehl offered his perspective. He said Ohio law is “a strange beast” in that it gives department heads responsibility for their particular departments and — once those department heads get the appropriated funds for the next year — it is “more or less” the department heads’ responsibility; and yet, on the other hand, Ohio law also gives commissioners responsibility for the overall budget.
“And at times it [what Ohio law provides] pits us against one another,” said Habermehl, the head of a county department.
During an exchange between Woods and Linkous, there was levity on the potentially contentious subject.
Woods started by saying if the change doesn’t work, she will be the first to admit it doesn’t work.
The commissioner added, “But the end result I still think will be better, and again, if I’m wrong I’m wrong.”
Linkous responded, “Well, before you become wrong, don’t do that.”
Laughter broke out in the room after Woods replied, “I’m not wrong yet.”
Toward the close of the discussion, Linkous said he just wants to make sure the work of the engineer’s office does not get held up.
Steed promised him commissioners would do everything in their power to see that doesn’t happen.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.