Commission changes purchasing policy

PARKERSBURG – After some discussion, Wood County commissioners voted to make a change in the county purchasing policy.

The commissioners on a 2-1 vote lowered the threshold amount from $5,000 to $1,500 required for the county commission to approve a purchase before a purchase order is issued.

Commissioner Steve Gainer’s motion to leave the policy as is died for lack of a second. A motion to change the threshold purchase amount for commission review from $5,000 to $1,500 effective July 1 was approved by Commissioners David Couch and Wayne Dunn with Gainer dissenting.

After the commissioners made changes in their meeting procedures and shortened the number of meetings they conduct monthly, the purchasing procedures were reviewed. A committee consisting of the officials involved with the policies and procedures relating to purchasing met and recommended changes to the commission. The changes were approved in May and went into effect July 1, 2013.

“I believe that the plan was well thought out and provided the necessary flexibility for the full time elected officials to carry out their constitutional and statutory duties during such times that the commission is not in session,” Prosecutor Jason Wharton told commissioners in a letter submitted Thursday.

At Thursday’s meeting, Wharton said since the “commission seems to want to exercise more control over individual expenditures,” the possibility of reducing the threshold amount to $1,500 might be considered. The threshold is the point that would require the commissioners to approve the purchase for before a purchase order is issued.

County officials said the administrator’s office, and clerk’s office review the purchases to make sure there are sufficient funds in the elected officials’ budgets to make the purchase.

Wharton told the commissioners he would not be opposed to reducing the threshold amount to $1,500, but recommended they leave the rest of the policy intact. He recommended any changes made take effect July 1 so as not to have multiple policies in effect in different budget years at the time the audit is performed. The county’s budget runs July 1 to June 30.

Wharton told the commissioners he is tentatively predicting his office will be returning $12,500 from his budget from data processing, maintenance, training, professional services, supplies and equipment line items.

“That is a conservative estimate,” the prosecutor said, noting he doesn’t believe the current policy is being abused.

“I believe the flexibility the commission offered the elected officials in the present policy has worked for the most part and is reflected in the expected amount to be returned from my office, and has not been abused,” the prosecutor said.

“I feel the policy which has been in effect for the past year works well, we’ve only had one problem, and that was a total misunderstanding. I don’t see anything wrong with the way it is,” Gainer said.

“Our duty is to provide checks and balances. Our staff in the administrator’s office does not have the duty of reviewing requisitions, only to see if there are funds available, not to determine whether the purchase is appropriate or not. When one of the staff asked for a clarification they were told by an elected official that was not part of their duties under the policy,” Couch said.

“If someone tried to make an illegal purchase a review would be requested,” Clerk Mark Rhodes said.

“Purchases have sometimes already been made by the time we see it,” Gainer said.

Under the changes made last year in the policy if the funds are available in the elected officials’ budget, the department can go ahead and make the purchase unless as it does not exceed the current $5,000 threshold amount. Under the previous policy, the finance office could not make payment unless it had been signed off on first by the commissioners.

“My office staff only provides the litmus tests for whether the funds are in the budget, and if they are not, it could be brought before the commission for review,” County Administrator Marty Seufer said.

“The elected officials are answerable for purchases made,” Wharton said.

Couch noted there have been a number of times when he has flagged purchases for questions.

“When we met two times a week it went smoothly,” Couch said.

“That has nothing to do with it, we are trying to micro-manage,” Gainer said, noting the elected officials are responsible to the taxpayers.

The commissioners last year eliminated two meetings a month, and developed a new policy that bills and related documents must be in the administrator’s office two days in advance of a meeting so they can be made available for public inspection. If they come in later they are held until the next meeting, which in some cases, could be nearly two weeks later.

“There have been times when funds were transferred without us knowing. There have been times when I questioned a requisition, it was sent back and never came back again. There have also been forms signed by two different people from a department, I’ve sent out a lot of notes asking for further explanations on some of these purchases,” Couch said.

“With the $1,500 threshold you would have even more control, but we have to be able to operate our offices on a daily basis,” Wharton said.

“Some items just need a little more explanation,” Dunn said.