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Cox in favor of raising spending limits
Cox, Bobby new mugshot.jpg
Bobby Cox

Director of Schools Bobby Cox outlined his support for Warren County government increasing its departmental spending limit to $25,000. 

“No. 1, it will save us time and money from advertising bids and things of that type,” said Cox to members of the county Education Committee.

At this time, department directors can spend up to $10,000 using an informal bidding process where they call three businesses for quotes and submit those in committee. Warren County Commission approval is not required. 

However, if the item costs more than $10,000, the director must undertake a formal bidding process by advertising the item, accepting bids, submitting those bids in committee and seeking final approval from the full County Commission. 

Cox also says the increase would allow him to seek pricing on a pole barn for Warren County High School, an item he believes would cost less than $25,000 despite the formal bidding process being undertaken three times and the bids received being in excess of $100,000.  

“No. 2, like the barn that we’ve all discussed trying to get done,” he said. “We got our bids in last week and it’s over $100,000. It was like $111,000. We’ve bid it three times. Everyone tells me that we could build one for less than $25,000. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but every time we’ve bid it, it has been $100,000.”

Commissioners will be considering a resolution on Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. to increase the bidding threshold to $25,000 for all departments, a measure that came from the county Financial Management Committee. 

In committee, the measure passed and split members 4-3. Cox, Warren County Executive Jimmy Haley and Commissioners Richard Grissom and Daniel Owens voted in favor of increasing the spending limit to $25,000. Road Superintendent Levi Glenn and Commissioners Scott Rubley and Gary Martin voted against the change.

This would be the second increase to departmental spending limits in three years. Commissioners approved an increase from $5,000 to $10,000 in late 2016. Department directors argued the Highway Department’s spending limit was set by state law at $10,000 and the increase would make all departments equal. 

Critics of the measure included Commissioner Tommy Savage who argued that the increase would allow department directors to arbitrarily pick a business or contractors and would open the door to unfair spending. 

“I think bids should be advertised to keep the playing field level,” said Savage. “I’ve always been in a business where you have to watch people like a hawk. I guess that just makes me very cautious, especially when spending the people’s money.” 

The increase to $25,000 is allowed under the Financial Management Act of 1981, which Warren County government adopted several years ago. Required with the increase would be a purchasing agent in the county’s Finance Department to review the informal bidding process undertaken by directors.  

“The purchasing agent would ensure that we would get the best price for what we were trying to do,” said Cox. “The barn issue is just one instance. If we had a bid limit of $25,000 and I could get quotes and build it, we would already be done with it.”

A pole barn, as described by Cox, is actually a wood structure that’s 40 feet by 60 feet. It would have a roof with an overhang but no walls. The structure must be approved by the State Fire Marshal’s office. 

“So, if we did this and the estimates are under $25,000 you wouldn’t have to go out for competitive bids?” asked Commissioner Carlene Brown.

Cox replied, “No. We would get three quotes.” 

“A 40 by 60 isn’t much,” said Commissioner Robert Hennessee. “Even with my limited skill set, I could handle that.”

Commissioner Steven Helton said he constructed one for $16,000 approximately five years ago, but also stated the rules differ between what he can build on his personal property and what must be constructed on school property.

Brown stated, “Let’s leave the barn topic for a minute. If you wanted to buy a truck and the price was going to be between $22,000 and $24,000 you wouldn’t have to take competitive bids?”

Cox replied, “No. We would get three quotes.”

A measure to change the departmental spending limit from $10,000 to $25,000 will be under consideration by the Warren County Commission on Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m.