Budget approved; Bell resigns at County Commission

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The Madison County Commission had its monthly meeting on Monday, June 17, and approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year on first reading and also rejected the resignation of a county department head.

The budget vote came with little discussion after a series of budget meetings and discussions in various caucus meetings.

The Commission elected to keep the property tax where it was last year.

Because county revenues are increasing, penny allocation from those property taxes are more valuable. According to budget committee chairman Carl Alexander, a penny this year is worth about $319,000 in county funding.

All of that was near the end of the meeting.

Near the beginning of the meeting was when the County officially find out it’s about to lose its finance director.

Karen Bell gave the current condition of the County’s finances. It owes $83 million in debt, mostly from the recently constructed jail and the ongoing Pope School construction. It has a $34 general fund balance, which is before paying out $13 million in debt service.

Bell then read a statement that chronicled her 35-year career in public service, last five years with Madison County and the last two months since being admonished by Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Marlon King and Mayor A.J. Massey during a financial management meeting.

Bell said she’s always been told to ensure the County had as few findings in state audits as possible at every municipality she’s worked for, but hearing Massey tell her not to worry about audit findings was jarring.

She said the way she was spoken to and the way it came with little warning caused her a good amount of anxiety that added on to stress she was feeling as she spent much of that week in April in budget hearings also caring for her ailing mother.

It’s also left her team in the financial management department “broken” and led to the resignation of her deputy, whose last day was June 5 and the recent notice given by the department’s bookkeeper.

Bell said she’s decided it’s best for her to call it a career too and move on from the County, effective June 28, which is the day the Commission is set to meet to officially ratify the budget.

“In that April 19 meeting, the Mayor told me to release myself of the pressure to watch over the County’s finances, well I’ve decided to release myself as I’m officially submitting my resignation effective June 28,” Bell said.

The Commission took a vote of whether or not to accept her resignation. With 21 Commissioners present, they voted 13-8 not to accept. The vote did not fall according to party lines, but those who didn’t accept her resignation – essentially showing support for Bell – 10 of them were Republican.

“We can’t really make anyone show up for work if they don’t want to,” said Commission Chair Mike Taylor after the meeting. “But some of the Commissioners wanted to show their support for her in not accepting her resignation.”

Here’s a look at other business the Commission handled on Monday:

  • Approved 18-3 to rezone nearly 700 acres off Denmark-Jackson Road in the western part of the county to forestry-agricultural-recreational to allow for another solar farm to be installed. This one will send power to Jackson Energy Authority and Madison County.
  • Unanimously approved a resolution calling on federal representatives of Madison County to work to bring mail sorting back to the United States Postal Service location in Jackson.
  • Heard a presentation from a couple of investigators from Jackson Police about the seriousness of fentanyl in the area and how often they are dealing with the substance that is highly addictive and deadly.
  • Attendance report: Cindi Bryant, Aaron Ellison, Joey Hale and Tony Neihoff were absent for this meeting.

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news