published Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Bradley officials differ on long-term spending

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Ed Elkins is warning fellow Bradley County commissioners that capital projects fund balances are getting too low and that will lead to unintended consequences.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Connie Wilson disagreed.

Capital projects money should be spent on long-term needs, equipment or construction that lasts 15 years or more, Elkins said Monday evening at a commission work session. Instead, he said, recent county budgets have relied on the fund for more short-term and recurring needs, such as data processing.

He said capital projects money has been used for items that should be in departments’ annual budgets.

“In my opinion we are doing the same thing Washington has been doing for several years. People are up in arms about that. We’ve spent ourselves into a lot of debt that has not been funded,” Elkins said. “I think we are continuing to do the same thing here in Bradley County.”

Wilson said capital funds have been used for legitimate needs

“There have been dire economic times,” she said, “and I am proud of the fact we haven’t had a tax increase and Mayor Davis has balanced our budget.

“We have been able to meet our obligations without a tax increase,” she said.

Wilson said she believes the county’s financial outlook will improve in future budget years.

Elkins is saying money was spent from budget line items incorrectly, Commissioner Jeff Yarber said, and Wilson is saying hard times have called for hard measures.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis recalled a list of commission-approved projects, including the county’s $3 million commitment to Wacker Chemical and other commitments to corporations and a future APD 40 interchange.

The commission created a Community Development Fund to address those commitments, he said.

“We never borrowed. We paid cash,” Davis said. “When you pay with cash, the checking account goes down.”

The conversation was sparked by a Bradley sheriff’s department request to begin a merit pay plan in the coming fiscal year by foregoing its own capital projects needs, including patrol cars, and moving money to salaries.

The commission plans to vote on a budget for 2011-12 on July 18.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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