published Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Several commissioners sit on bulk of discretionary funds


by Matt Wilson

Some Hamilton County commissioners have hundreds of thousands of dollars left in their discretionary funds from this fiscal year, while others are sitting on considerably less.

"It's the taxpayers' money, and I want to treat it that way," said Commissioner Bill Hullander, who is stepping down from his commission seat to run for county trustee. "I may not end up using all of it."

As of Feb. 8, Mr. Hullander had about $215,000 in funds for capital projects such as building repairs, county records show.

But another commissioner who is stepping down, Chairman Curtis Adams, said putting those funds into the community is important.

"I don't understand having it if you don't spend it," he said.

Mr. Adams' capital outlay balance was about $80,500 as of Feb. 8.

It was unclear where unused money goes when a commissioner leaves office.

Commissioners regularly gain access to some county money -- $4,500 per year for travel expenses, $100,000 from bond issues in 2001, 2004 and 2006, and $100,000 in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for capital improvements -- to spend on projects of their choosing.

They largely direct their discretionary spending to local schools, civic organizations and religious groups.

The Rev. Bernie Miller, Commissioner Greg Beck's primary opponent in the upcoming election for District 5, said he had some issues with the organizations that received Mr. Beck's money. Mr. Beck has put about $1,000 of his funds into Howard School of Academics and Technology, which is in District 4.

"The discretionary fund, which is taxpayers' money, should be spent wisely and in the district that the commissioner represents first, before going outside of their area," said Dr. Miller. "The people should have an opportunity to suggest ways to use the money."

BIGGEST PROJECTS

From the fiscal 2010 allocation, plus money rolled over from previous years, as of Feb. 8:

* District 1: Fred Skillern: $1,000 each for Soddy-Daisy High School and Sale Creek Middle/High School

* District 2: Richard Casavant: $3,000 for Red Bank High School

* District 3: Jim Coppinger: $5,000 for Loftis Middle School

* District 4: Warren Mackey: $18,505 for Harrison Ruritan Foundation

* District 5: Greg Beck: $17,311 for Hillcrest Elementary School

* District 6: John Allen Brooks: $15,000 each for Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library and Girls Incorporated

* District 7: Larry Henry: $10,700 for Riddell

* District 8: Curtis Adams: $60,886 for playground equipment

* District 9: Bill Hullander: $11,000 for Snow Hill Elementary

Source: Hamilton County government

REMAINING FUNDS

From the fiscal 2010 allocation, plus funds rolled over from previous years, as of Feb. 8:

* District 1: Fred Skillern: $238,057

* District 2: Richard Casavant: $234,558

* District 3: Jim Coppinger: $263,199

* District 4: Warren Mackey: $29,926

* District 5: Greg Beck: $55,198

* District 6: John Allen Brooks: $153,052

* District 7: Larry Henry: $195,547

* District 8: Curtis Adams: $80,508

* District 9: Bill Hullander: $215,395

Source: Hamilton County government

Mr. Beck said it's not uncommon for commissioners to donate to schools in other districts.

"We all assist each other in projects at each others' schools," he said. "(Dr. Miller) is confused and misinformed on how this thing works."

In fact, Commissioner Warren Mackey, who represents District 4, directed about $5,000 of his discretionary funds to a project at Brainerd High School, which is in District 5.

Dr. Mackey, who has spent more of his capital funds than any other commissioner, said he wants to help provide activities for children in his district and surrounding areas.

"A lot of these kids don't have a lot to do," he said.

Commissioner Fred Skillern, who had about $238,000 in his discretionary fund, said he recently has committed much of those and other discretionary dollars to projects, including Red Bank Dixie Youth Baseball, a community center on Mowbray Mountain and a softball field at Soddy-Daisy High School.

Still, Mr. Skillern said he wants to "make the dollar go as far as it'll go."

He said he sets aside $100,000 in funds for project funds or federal grants that demand county matching dollars.

Commissioners Jim Coppinger and Richard Casavant said they also like to use discretionary funds to match project money.

"I'll continue to spend it wisely," Mr. Coppinger said.

Commissioner John Allen Brooks said he's holding back some of his discretionary money to help with a project in the East Lake community involving the middle school and the recreation center there.

Commissioner Larry Henry said he's got some projects in mind, especially involving athletics at the schools in his district such as the new East Hamilton School. Still, he wants to keep some of the money in reserve for emergencies.

"I try to be very conservative with it," he said.

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