Supervisors, conservation talk, but no decision made on budget
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Henry County supervisors and the county conservation department have a budgetary problem.
The two sides met for over an hour Thursday during the regular meeting of the supervisors and while it appeared there was some movement toward a solution, the problem was not completely resolved.
Instead, the supervisors said they would have to do more discussion and deliberation before giving the department an answer.
At issue is the conservation department’s budget, primarily accounts 22000 and 24000. Account 22000 is for donations made to the department and Oakland Mills Nature Center while account 24000 is for campground, cabins and shelter house revenue and expenses.
For the past several years, the accounts have been line items in the department’s budget, even though the accounts have raised some red flags with state auditors, county officials say. In fiscal year 2018, the supervisors want to move the accounts into the county’s general basic budget.
Meanwhile, John Pullis, conservation department executive director, and his board members want to retain the accounts as is.
“I have developed a new accounting method which allows us to better track expenses and revenue for campgrounds, cabins and shelter houses,” Pullis said. “In the past, we have done a poor job of tracking expenses for the campgrounds, cabins and shelter houses.”
County supervisors and officials are skeptical. County Auditor Shelly Barber told those gathered at Thursday’s meeting that the conservation department had only spent $175 for power from account 24000 (campgrounds, cabins and shelter houses) from July 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016.
Supervisor Chairman Marc Lindeen said he would have to carefully study the matter before making a decision. “I want to be able to understand it and see if I can track it the way I want to track it. I have no problem with them keeping their donations (in a separate account).
“I want to make it so we all understand what we are doing and have simplification,” Lindeen added.
Current balance in account 22000 is nearly $22,000 while account 24000 has a balance of $167,000. Pullis said he was willing to give $100,000 of the latter account’s balance to the county.
The supervisors did say that if the accounts remained separate line items, no general basic budget money would be going into either account.
Lindeen took issue with claims that Pullis’ initial budget proposal had been revised. “It is not revised, it is just in a form the state will approve. We want true numbers we can understand and true line items.”
Conservation board members maintained the two accounts should be kept as is. “One of the funds that houses the memorial fund and donations to the Nature Center will be going to the general fund (under the revised budget),” remarked Kat Zeglen. “That is restricted money and should stay restricted and go to the Nature Center and not the (county’s) general fund. If that’s the case, I am not going to donate (to the Nature Center) or solicit donations.”
“We’re not addressing the amounts of money (in each account),” stated Tony Brown, another conservation board member. “We don’t have an issue with that. We need a restricted account so the money will be spent for which it was intended. …We’re not arguing dollars, we’re arguing structure.”
Supervisor Greg Moeller said that by incorporating the accounts into the county’s general basic fund, it would streamline the process.
“This seems to me that it is not streamlined at all,” answered George Jacques of the conservation board.
Brown said the department’s accounting system is being restructured “so we can track if the campground and shelter houses are self-sufficient.”
Barber said she doesn’t have any problem with the numbers or accounts but was under instruction by the supervisors to incorporate the accounts into the county’s general basic budget.
“I just wanted a true picture (of revenue and expenses). It is pure and simple,” Lindeen explained.
Conservation board member Tim Batey suggested that both parties go forward with the current system and, “see what we have and make it better.”
“Can we try what I proposed for a year and if it is not working, change it in January?” asked Pullis.
Lindeen said he could not answer that question now. “I want to mull this over for a while.”
Supervisors promised they would inform Pullis of their decision, which will be made soon.