County officials look at budget procedures

PARKERSBURG – Some Wood County officials are questioning whether current county commission procedures for purchases are necessary budget oversight or micromanaging.

The commissioners discussed changes in agenda and meeting procedures this week, including a proposal to require all paperwork to be considered by the commission to be ready two days in advance in case the public wishes to review it prior to the meeting.

Wood County Clerk Jamie Six, whose office handles finance/bookkeeping functions including payroll for the county, noted commission meeting time changes and procedures could cause potential problems. Under the change, the commissioners will meet Mondays, unless it’s a holiday, and the first and third Thursdays only. They plan to meet on Thursday of any week where Monday is a holiday. Previously the commissioners met each Monday and Thursday weekly.

“This affects finance quite a bit. There may be credit card bills that come in on a Friday. We are already having to pay late fees in some cases, we may be seeing more,” the clerk noted. Six said under current policy, the office has to wait for the commissioners’ signatures.

Six said bills go to the affected department or agency, are reviewed and signed off then go to the commission for signatures. “By the time they make it back to the finance office to be paid they are sometimes late, incurring additional fees.”

Commissioner Blair Couch suggested a standing order might be entered authorizing payment of certain bills, like utility bills, for payment so they could be paid as soon as possible.

“We would need to be specific about what we are authorizing, listing vendors. We would still review it, but that way you could go ahead and pay it,” Couch said.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton said he designated one of his assistant prosecutors on staff in his office to sign off if he is not available.

“That way there is no delay in our office,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be paying any late fees, and we need to pay the utility bills right away,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

Six noted department heads may now have to wait 8-10 days to get commissioners’ approval to make purchases.

“We could create an order for the president of the commission to be allowed to go ahead and sign off in a timely manner, with review by the county commission as a whole at a later meeting,” Couch suggested.

“The whole agenda affects the purchasing policy,” Six said.

“The county commission is the fiscal agent for the county; we are responsible,” Couch said.

“But when you have a line item for records books purchases only and I need to order records books for my office, why should I have to get a purchase order for deed books? It’s only because your policy requires me to,” he said.

Couch said the commission needs to keep an eye and a lid on the budget, provide oversight.

“We need to know what’s going on at budget time,” he said.

Wharton suggested setting a low dollar threshold, like $500-$1,000 for things like supply purchases.

“You can use your checks and balances at budget time, but the county commission only has a certain number of days you meet. We are here everyday. You can set threshold controls which would allow us to function between meetings,” Wharton said.

Six noted “red flags come up in the finance office when an expenditures is over budget anyway.”

The clerk also noted, with payroll deadlines, if someone earns overtime at a certain time during the month they may now have to wait until the next pay period to be compensated.

“They may be waiting 25 days to be paid for the overtime they worked. We check to see if the funds are there for payroll to pay it, but the commission’s signature is still required. It’s not fair to the employee who worked the overtime to have to wait,” Six said.

“Your have checks and balances at the time of budget preparation and you see the bill. How much do you want to micromanage?” Wharton asked.

“It’s checks and balances. We set the internal policies and are the fiscal agent. We have a responsibility,” Couch responded.

Commission President Wayne Dunn asked the matter be tabled for further discussion. The commissioners agreed to ask deputy clerk Mark Rhodes to represent Six’s office on the committee reviewing changes.