‘Tossed aside’ county financial policies soon to be strengthened

 SHEILA MATHEWS ::: sheila@the-grip.net

Spalding County officials are nearing the completion of formal Financial Policies and Procedures, which one elected official says is long overdue.

According to Spalding County Commissioner Raymond Ray, the county has never had such a thorough guideline as the forthcoming one will prove to be, but that what had been in place had been set aside in recent years.

“The county had established policies and procedures in place for quite some time, but they were basically tossed when (County Manager) William (Wilson) was removed from office in 2010,” he said. “It became a matter of whatever was easiest – no bids, low bids, no proof of bids. We’re putting all of that back in place so that taxpayers will know their money is being managed properly.”

He said that one common complaint – those of Spalding County vendors who claimed they were being excluded from county contracts – is also being addressed.

“Local vendors have complained that they were not being given a chance to bid, and if they were, out-of-county vendors got the work, even if the Spalding County vendors had lower bids,” Ray said. “I’m not going to say there was preferential treatment going on, but it was questionable.”

He said that under the forthcoming Financial Policies and Procedures, local businesses will be more likely to win bids, even if they do not necessarily have the lowest bid.

“We didn’t have a five-percent system for local vendors,” Ray said. “Being locals, they pay taxes, so they will have a little leeway, even if they don’t have the lowest bid, up to five percent.”

In addition, the document will outline the county’s budgeting procedure while also placing stricter restrictions on all department heads.

“We will budget to operate the county and nothing more. That wasn’t necessarily there before,” Ray said. “It (the former policy) was loosely interpreted. It was a loose document that didn’t have specifics, but we’ve tightened that up. Where the department heads had a lot of freedom before, they don’t now.”

The new more restrictive policy will lower spending limits for all department heads and will require additional approval for some bidding processes – if it is under $5,000, they will be required to submit three bids to Administrative Services Director Jinna Garrison.   For those over $5,000, the same information must be submitted for Wilson’s approval.

“This is to verify that we have not only the best price, but the best vendor,” Ray said. “It may cost a little more, but if you get better services, that’s important. We’re also trying to involve local businesses on services.”

As an example of the county’s efforts to streamline spending, he cited county vehicle oil changes, which until recently were being done by 16 different vendors.

“We were paying different rates across the board and we were receiving different services across the board,” Ray said.

The county has now contracted with the city of Griffin for that service on a trial basis to determine if it will prove to be not only a cost-saving measure for the county, but mutually beneficial.

With regard to recent financial management policies, Ray said he is displeased, but believes the new policy will put into place guidelines for a stable financial future. Along with that step, Ray said a Comprehensive Improvement Plan should also be implemented.

“For us to be able to properly budget, we need to have a plan that’s reviewed every three years and updated every five years,” he said. “Spalding County has never had a Comprehensive Improvement Plan, but guess what – we need a plan to prepare.”

The Financial Policies and Procedures has been a work-in-progress for three years, and is expected to soon be completed.

“We should have it published before the next budgeting process begins in February 2014,” Ray said. “The bottom line for Spalding County is efficiency is effectiveness, and efficiency plus effectiveness means better economics.” Ω

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