The extent of purchasing-card use by the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government sparked unusually intense debate Wednesday among members of the task force working on policies related to the merger.
At an early morning meeting of the task force Finance Committee, Wes Clarke from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government turned in a set of proposed financial policies to be recommended for adoption. Clarke said he worked with city, county and regional commission staff for months and looked at policies of similar governments and good-government models. He merged current Macon and Bibb policies and reconciled contradictions, but the results werent radically different from either current policy, he said.
I suppose the use of purchasing cards is one example of one thing we had a difference of opinion on, or a difference in policy, Clarke said.
Committee Chairwoman Pearlie Toliver said card use and rules involved a great deal of debate while the policies were being written.
Bibb County is more wary than the city of using purchasing cards frequently, but many governments are finding them convenient without substantial misuse, he said.
You can put any kind of restrictions you want on it, Clarke said.
The policy recommendation is for purchasing cards to be used for buying from approved vendors only, for amounts up to $1,000. Buys more than that amount would require purchasing orders. As part of the recommendation, department heads would be responsible for use of all cards issued within their departments, and purchases couldnt be split to get around the $1,000 limit.
Macon Finance Director Megan McMahon said city department heads and some others now carry purchasing cards, most with purchase limits of $500, so the Finance Department isnt cutting thousands of extra checks for small or sudden purchases. Daily, monthly or per-transaction limits can easily be set on each card, she said.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart agreed purchasing cards work well, but he said since the new government is required to cut its budget, more centralized spending control may be needed -- partly because the new government will help fund various constitutional officers, who wont be under the same level of control by Macon-Bibb officials as department heads.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the new government will need to dole out purchasing cards carefully, but he said many longtime department heads are beyond reproach, and that assigning them a strict card limit is demeaning.
Councilman Tom Ellington and Commissioner Lonzy Edwards disagreed with Reichert. Ellington said the new government has to trust its department heads, but that a limit isnt insulting. Edwards, meanwhile, said he worries about anything that lets people circumvent the budgetary controls.
Reichert took issue with Edwards characterization. The new government can set whatever limits on card use it wants, but just using purchasing cards does not dodge spending rules, Reichert said. He moved to approve the purchasing card policy, subject to the constraints you want to put on them.
But the debate broke out anew about how to set those constraints, winding down with Clarkes agreement to rework the language on spending limits. New language will be sent to committee members by email, Toliver said.
Ellington objected, saying the committee should openly review the changes. But state Rep. Nikki Randall shook her head, noting that the new government will need policy recommendations in January.
Madame chair, it is September, she said to Toliver.
Ellington cast the only vote against approving the policies Wednesday, with Mercer University President Bill Underwood and state Sen. Cecil Staton absent from the nine-member committee.
The committee also recommended State Bank & Trust Co. for the new governments basic banking service, voting 4-1 with Ellington opposed. Edwards and Randall abstained.
A city-county review committee received six bids, heard presentations from State Bank, Wells Fargo and SunTrust, and unanimously chose State Bank as the best value, said Daniel Cummings, government services specialist for Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
Ellington and Edwards said their earlier questions about how many local foreclosures each bank had begun and completed remained unanswered. One of the major contributors to local housing blight is banks that told homeowners they were being foreclosed upon, prompting those residents to move out. But the banks never filed a foreclosure deed, thus letting the empty house fester without maintenance, Ellington said. He and Edwards said banks behavior on mortgages should affect whether the new government gives them business.
They were overruled, again due to concern that further debate might mean banking functions such as payroll wouldnt be ready when the new government starts. Toliver said the bidders will still be asked for foreclosure information, but Ellington doubted they would now have much motive to respond.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.