The county’s newly appointed Financial Management Committee director Linda Hillis is already making arrangements to learn the ins and outs of running a consolidated purchasing department for Warren County.
The committee was formed when the county adopted what is commonly referred to as the 81 Act, state legislation which allowed Tennessee counties to establish a Financial Management Committee to consolidate purchasing for the school system, the highway department and county government.
Hillis told commissioners upon her appointment she would like to visit other counties which have adopted the 81 Act to see how they have implemented the system.
The first such visit will be to Franklin County this Tuesday. Hillis says all seven members of the Financial Management Committee have been invited to make the trip, but she hasn’t heard who may accompany her.
The county is required to have the department and its staff in place and ready to take over by July 1 of next year, so Hillis has 10 months to prepare.
For this early visit, Hillis said she just wants to get a general idea of how things work in Franklin County since it made the switch. Hillis said she has some specific goals for Warren County’s new financial department.
“One of them is to make sure everything is done the way it’s supposed to be done according to the law,” said Hillis. “Another is to make sure all the departments work together to try to accomplish the goal of consolidating this finance department and making it run efficiently.”
Several other counties in the surrounding region have also adopted the act, including White, Cumberland and Bedford counties. Currently 21 counties statewide have adopted the legislation.
Hillis says her initial contact with Franklin County officials indicated the reaction to the system there was positive.
“I talked to the finance director in Franklin County,” Hillis said. “She said it works really well for their county.”
County Executive John Pelham, who supported the adoption of the act in Warren County, says there are a number of benefits, including cost savings, but there are also some changes to be made to the local departments in order to standardize procedures.
Traditionally there has been a minimum purchase amount, usually around $5,000, that can be purchased without putting it out for bids. Prior to the 81 Act, each department handled its own bid procedures.
“With our Financial Management Committee, any time we have an item, whatever it may be countywide, that’s over the minimum purchase amount it will go before this committee and be bid,” Pelham said. “And that is actually one of the things we have to address, because currently in the county we have two different minimum purchase amounts. The county and the school system both say anything over $5,000 has to be bid, and in the highway department anything over $10,000 has to be bid.
Once a bid amount is set, the committee will take over the process of bidding out the item or services.
“Whether it’s professional engineering services at the new schools we’re now building for instance, or whether it’s ambulance remounts, whether it’s existing county departments or something at the schools,” said Pelham. “In any case the same principle is going to apply. It is going to come before this full committee. By doing that we’re going to have much more expertise within this committee, the ability to make better, more informed decisions as far as the direction we go in order to save the county money.”