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Officials travel to Winchester for 81 Act
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Newly appointed financial management department director Linda Hillis and other local officials made a trip to Winchester last week to learn how government officials in Franklin County implemented the 81 Act there in 2002.
The Warren County Commission adopted 81 Act legislation in July.
The move brings the three main purchasing entities in the county – the school system, the highway department and the county itself – under one roof. The county must have policies and procedures in place to implement the measure locally by July 1.
Making the trip along with Hillis were County Executive John Pelham, chairman of the Financial Management Committee, and committee members Terry Bell, Gary Prater and Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale. Also on hand were assistant director of schools Bobby Cox and county bookkeeping employees Melanie Lanier and Mary Lou Ward.
Hillis said the Franklin County system, which has been in place almost a decade, runs smoothly and without any major issues.
“I was really impressed with their operation,” Hillis said. “Andrea Smith is the finance director and she just kind of went through the process of how they started.”
Policies and procedures of the 81 Act are fairly extensive, encompassing a 40-page document and including a number of state statutes which govern the legal aspects of the financial management department.
One of the things addressed was the county’s minimum bid amount. Currently the county and school system have a minimum bid amount of $5,000, while the highway department has $10,000. Any items over those amounts have to be put out for public bids.
“They had a minimum bid amount of $10,000,” Hillis said, noting this might have some effect on the committee’s decision on whether to go with a $5,000 or $10,000 minimum bid in Warren County. “It’s hard to say. I think when I first started in 1996 it was $2,000, and then they increased it to $5,000.”
Hillis says the different governmental entities in Franklin County handled the transition with little controversy, but according to the director, they did it a little differently than some counties.
“In the beginning, they were going to enact the whole thing at one time,” Hillis said. “But the school system actually called them prior to the time they were supposed to enact it and asked them to take theirs early. So she said because of that they did the schools first, and then they added the highway department, so they did it in phases.”
Franklin County’s consolidation included moving a number of employees from the school system and the highway department to the central office building.
“They ended up with 14 employees,” Hillis said. “They’re down to 10 now.”
But Hillis pointed out that was not due to layoffs. “As people retired or quit, they have not had to replace those people.”
Currently there are three people in Warren County’s financial department, but Hillis says consolidation will increase that significantly because of the increased work load.
“The county has around 300 employees,” Hillis said. “While the school system has 800. It’s basically going to triple our workload.”
Hillis says it’s hard to come up with an exact number, but feels it will be close to the number at Franklin County.
“Because Franklin County is pretty close to the same size population-wise and number of employees county-wide, I think it’s going to probably take eight to 10 people,” Hillis said. “I think we can do it with that.”
Hillis says plans are to visit some other nearby counties which have adopted the 81 Act, including White and Bedford counties.
Hillis and Pelham say the next move for the Financial Management Committee is to begin drafting a set of policies and procedures for Warren County. They say while the Franklin County document is a good reference, the county’s regulations will have to be designed to meet the needs of our local government, school system and highway department.