County budget committee looks to improve processes next year

The Madison County Commission’s budget committee met last week to review the budgeting process and tweak it however they felt it might be needed.

Along with the committee members, other commissioners and department heads were present for the discussion.

“We made a number of changes to the budgeting process this past year, so we wanted to see what worked, what didn’t and any changes that need to be made,” nsaid Carl Alexander, the budget committee chair.

Budgeting in the County has had a number of significant changes in the interest of streamlining the process – in making the annual budget in the spring and early summer along with the process of amending the budget throughout the year.

One change they made was bringing budget amendments from the financial management committee to the budget committee and cutting down on what budget amendments needed to be brought to the committee for eventual approval by the entire County Commission.

The changes caused a positive change as the County Commission discussed about 140 budget amendments in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The previous year had more than 400.

“And that was with y’all making that change later in the year,” said County Finance Manager Karen Bell, noting the change was officially made in December, so the amendment total could be even lower for the fiscal year that just began.

A significant portion of the conversation concerned the budget discussion process that saw the committee and leadership from Jackson-Madison County Schools navigate a stalemate that came down to the final days before official approval of the budget had to bypass the committee and go straight to the Commission.

“We need to make sure all department heads know before the process begins that May 1 is the deadline for budget submissions,” said Commission Chairman Gary Deaton.

According to conversations during budget hearings, JMCSS Superintendent Marlon King’s budget, which was officially submitted on June 5 after board approval, was more than a month later than all other department budgets.

King said in May that communication between himself and Bell indicated to him that he could wait until after the May 1 deadline to submit the JMCSS budget, quoting an e-mail exchange between the two.

Bell quoted regulations by County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) in last week’s meeting that their guidance is a May 1 deadline for budgets to be submitted with committees having voted on those budgets by June 1. This would give an entire month for the rest of the process from budget approval/rejection to County Commission’s official ratification of the budget.

Commissioner Mike Taylor had a suggestion for any department whose budget is submitted late.

”If they don’t submit their budget on time, then we should just go with their maintenance of effort,” Taylor said. “That’s what eventually happened this time around anyway.”

Deaton agreed with the suggestion, but nothing was officially decided regarding the notion.

The conversation then progressed to balancing the duty of the committee to have oversight over each department’s budget and the fact that neither they nor the County Commission has line item veto power on any departmental budget, particularly those whose department heads are elected officials (Sheriff, Mayor or judges) or are run by another legislative body (school system).

Commissioner Mark Aday, who recently retired from the County after having been the director of the building maintenance department, mentioned some of the conversations the committee had were venturing into areas that are under the authority of the department heads.

“Like y’all were discussing who’s getting paid and how much they’re getting paid, and that’s not really anything the committee is supposed to be concerned about,” Aday said. “That’s for the department head to worry about.”

Commissioner Andy Hall, who’s on the budget committee, said he asked questions because he’d been told of concerns because some long-time employees of the County weren’t making as much as others who haven’t worked as long.

“They’ve been working hard for 16 or 20 years and making less than someone who just hired in,” Hall said.

“Well what jobs are those people doing? Because some jobs just pay more than other jobs,” Aday said. “Again, that’s a question for the department head, but that’s not something this committee should be discussing.”

That’s when Deaton brought up the fact that the committee is charged with oversight of the County budget and how taxpayer funds are being spent, even if they don’t have veto power over how any department head decides to spend their money.

Mayor A.J. Massey added to the conversation when he mentioned recent state laws that were passed requiring not only public notification of upcoming meetings, but also public posting of the agendas for those meetings.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us as a county to look at those agendas and try to stick to them,” Massey said. “Because if you look around at any of these meetings, we’ve got department heads at almost every meeting even if their department isn’t even mentioned because they want to be here in case their department and its budget is brought up for some reason.

“So we’ve got county dollars being spent paying department officials to sit in a meeting they don’t need to be a part of, and if we stick to those agendas as much as possible, we hopefully won’t have that problem anymore. The good thing is this process has been streamlined to make sure we’re spending public funds as wisely as possible, and this would just be another way for us to make sure that happens.”

Brandon Shields,