Timing, retirements making summer stressful for Financial Committee

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Time may not be on the side of the Carter County's Financial Management Committee.
   The departure of County Executive Truman Clark and retirement of two employees from the county's bookkeeping department has committee members debating how to keep the county's existing financial department running smoothly.
   "What are we going to do when the election is over and no one's here?" asked R.L. Miller.
   The county's bookkeeping department currently has three employees. Two of those employees have reportedly planned to retire at the end of August, leaving only one person to handle bookkeeping duties for the county.
   Committee member Adeline Hyder was particularly worried about the departures given the timing of hiring the director and a new county executive taking office.
   One employee could not handle the entire county bookkeeping system until a financial officer was in place, she said.
   A possible answer was a lateral transfer of one or two county employees from other departments into the bookkeeping department.
   "I don't think we need to go that route until we get a financial director," said Blankenship, who cited state law that requires such decisions to be made under the finance director's implementation plan.
   County attorney George Dugger reminded the commission that the county executive usually made the decision to hire new employees. He also indicated that until a finance director was hired, the county could hire new employees to fill the bookkeeping positions without violating the finance implementation plan.
   The committee had projected hiring a financial director by late August. The county executive office's had already received six resumes, according to Smith.
   Officials from McMinn and Monroe counties had spoken about the effectiveness of having a financial director when committee members visited those counties earlier this year.
   According to committee members, the news they've heard has been promising.
   "They said they wouldn't have it any other way," said JoAnn Blankenship, committee chairwoman. "It freed up the county executive ... it freed up the director of schools.
   "One county saved over $1 million by refinancing some of the bonds they had."
   According to officials in both counties, an average savings of $100,000 was realized the first year a finance director's plan was implemented, she said.
   Those projected savings should answer the question asked by more than one committee member: "How are we going to pay for this new position?"
   Currently, each county department conducts their own purchasing and bids, and manages their employees' payroll and insurance accounts. The finance director would bring all those functions under one roof.
   The consolidation of services is expected to save the county substantial operating costs. The ability to draw more competitive bids for products and services also lowers costs.
   Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins said that although he had reservations about a finance director, speaking with the Monroe County director was convincing.
   "He said it would work," said Perkins.
   The committee set a minimum salary for the position at $30,000, and made the figure negotiable depending on a candidate's qualifications and experience.
   The committee discussed that an immediate savings could be realized when the two employees -- both of whom had salaries of around $30,000 -- retired.
   When filled by new employees, the entry level salaries of those positions could range from $17,000 to $18,000, freeing up roughly $24,000.
   The bookkeeping jobs have not been posted as open by the county, according to committee secretary Joanie Smith.
   The new position will also reduce the county executive's salary by approximately $7,600. Clark had been tasked with performing the county's financial functions for several years.
   The committee also discussed the possibility of allowing the financial director to hire a deputy financial director to handle the county school system's finances.
   That position would likely involve the transfer of the sitting school finance director Jerome Kitchens into the county office, said Blankenship.
   "When I talked to them, they said it would be to our advantage to have a deputy director to help with the school funds," she said.
   The committee will be accepting resumes for the financial director's position through July 31. The committee's next meeting was scheduled for August 12.