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Supervisors back off from requiring spending approval

By Staff | Jul 8, 2009

While appreciating the current financial crisis, the Emmet County Board of Supervisors Tuesday decided against requiring department heads to get preapproval for purchases over $2,000.

If it had approved the resolution, something that supervisor Jim Jenson was pressing, it would have applied to non-elected department heads – or those directly under the supervisors’ authority.

“We are going to have to watch for a while and see where things are going,” Jenson said, broaching the subject again at Tuesday’s meeting after bringing it up initially at last week’s meeting.

Acknowledging that the board could not put a $1,000 limit on expenses that were not preapproved in elected officials’ departments, Jenson suggested the board do so for those departments under its control.

“We have no idea what dollars we’ll have by the end of this year,” Jenson said, offering the reasoning for his suggestion.

Department heads-some elected, some hired-responded.

“We cannot do our job without a computer,” said Dorothy Christensen, county mental health coordinator, offering one example of her concerns over the $1,000 limit.

“Would $2,000 catch a computer now?” asked supervisor Bev Juhl.

Christensen said that it would.

Jenson said even if an item were in the budget, if it cost $1,000 it should require supervisors’ approval. “It just baffles me where we’re going to be this fall,” Jenson said.

Emmet County Engineer Roger Patocka offered concerns about being able to respond quickly to get equipment operable. “I think we’re being very responsible,” Patocka said.

“You walk a fine line in terms of micromanaging everything we do,” Christensen said.

“We are hired and elected to manage,” Jenson said.

“As managers we need to be sure we have the money to get the job done,” said Patocka.

“A thousand dollars is unreasonable,” Christensen said of the discretional spending authority limit.

Jenson said in the event of an emergency the supervisors could give approval by phone.

“This isn’t the first board that I’ve seen deal with this,” said supervisor Alan Madden. He did note that repairs would be exempt from the spending limit which would just address new purchases. Even if the limit were $5,000, said Madden, “My vote’s going to be no.”

“I think Dorothy’s a hundred percent right,” said supervisor Ron Smith. “I couldn’t agree more.”

“The $1,000 I think is too low,” said Juhl, suggesting that $2,000 might be more appropriate. “A lot of it I think is communication – just letting people know what’s going on.”

“We also as a board have to look at these things,” said Randy Beaver, board chair. “It is our job to ask why it was spent. Everybody’s got to be careful in these times.”

The board agreed that equipment repairs should be exempt from the spending authority limit.

Jenson moved that any expenditure over $2,000 made by departments governed by the board of supervisors require board approval.

“I think we could run into some problems,” Patocka insisted, saying he could easily have an emergency purchase over $5,000. “Wintertime is usually a pretty stressful time already for the guys.”

Madden suggested instead that the board review the budget, line item by line item, several times a year. “There’s figures that should be available now that won’t be available until January,” Madden said.

Emmet County Attorney Doug Hansen suggested that when the board meets in January to look at next year’s budget it could also review the current year budget – something he said might alleviate some year-end expenditures.

Jenson agreed that the board should review budgets at least quarterly.

Jenson’s motion died for lack of a second. However, the board agreed that it will proceed with a quarterly budget review.