NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Red Ink Runneth in Crossville

Cumberland County funds were running deficits, in one case in excess of $1 million, state auditors found in an annual review of the county’s finances.

The county’s solid waste disposal fund was in the red $1.2 million at the end of the 2010 fiscal year, based on a liability associated with closing the county’s landfill and the cost of monitoring it for 30 years, auditors wrote in the Dec. 15 report. A schools federal projects fund was running a more than $350,000 deficit at the end of the fiscal year, and the Cumberland County Railroad Authority’s spending had exceeded its budget by more than $240,000.

With the flood of red ink comes the predictable pondering of new revenue sources by county commissioners.

Officials are also now pledging to check figures and operating-fund balances on a weekly basis to avoid financial shortfalls in the schools. The deficit in the solid waste disposal fund is to be closed using a capital outlay note, “which will be issued when the cash is required,” county officials said in their response to the audit.

Auditors also highlighted how a former county mayor had entered into contracts for lease agreements and naming rights without first getting the county commission’s OK. On his own, former County Mayor Brock Hill entered into a $32,000, eight-year contract with Spirit Broadband for naming rights to a new county amphitheater to be located behind the courthouse.

The Crossville Chronicle has covered the issue closely and reported in December that Spirit Broadband was threatening to sue the county, after a key committee voted in October to pull out of the agreement.

Commissioners were miffed when they realized they had been cut out of the process.

“We’ve been kept in the dark on this thing,” Commissioner Mike Harvel said at a September meeting. “We were never told of the county having to come up with money on this. It wasn’t supposed to cost the county anything. It’s supposed have been voted on — well, we needed to vote on it, and I’ve never been told about anything in the six years I’ve been here.”

Commissioner Carmin Lynch said the naming rights deal went against an earlier plan: “I was under the impression that this project was solely going to be built from donations. A $20,000 contract selling the naming rights doesn’t sound like a donation to me. Some of that’s been spent, and it’s not on the county’s books.”

Hill, in his response to the audit’s findings, said in negotiating the lease agreements he was merely formalizing previous actions of the County Commission. The same was true of the naming rights deal, he said.

Current County Mayor Kenneth Carey, Jr., responded by saying he would not repeat the mistake.

Auditors also dinged the county for overpaying election workers, not consistently keeping minutes for Election Commission meetings, having inadequate records of schools employees’ vacation leave, and allowing people other than the workers themselves to sign time sheets in the Solid Waste Department.

Auditors also noticed that one employee was apparently doing private work on county time. A county solid waste truck driver, who owned a trash company, apparently dropped off garbage for his private company at the same time he was supposed to be at work for the county, auditors found, based on a comparison of time sheets with landfill weight tickets.

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