Official Wants County to Justify How Money Is Spent; Many Watching Budget since Dumping Scandal

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

County Commissioner Harold Rutledge wants Clay County government department heads to justify how they spend taxpayers' money.

So Rutledge, who was elected last year, has asked the commission to adopt zero-based budgeting. In that process, all proposed expenditures must be defended annually, not just new expenditures.

Each department's base funding would start off at zero every year, rather than the amount it was allocated the year before, as is currently the case.

"I want more accountability," Rutledge said.

His request, made at the April 26 commission meeting, comes on the heels of an illegal public works dumping scandal. Commissioners said they were caught unaware in March when state and federal agents uncovered a wide range of contaminated materials in county borrow pits that are designed to store only dirt and lime rock for construction projects.

The raid was part of a continuing criminal investigation into the county Public Works Department, which operates the pits. Sources have said former Public Works Director Arthur Ivey is the target of the probe, but he has denied wrongdoing.

County Manager Bob Wilson and Ivey have resigned. Facing cleanup costs and potential fines in the millions, the commission has since ordered a virtual hiring freeze and directed Acting County Manager Rich O'Connell to closely scrutinize all purchases.

Also, Acting Public Works Director Chuck Iley has implemented strict internal controls in that department to better track costs, employee time and equipment usage.

But Rutledge said close budget scrutiny should be applied countywide. Also, he said he wants long-term, strategic planning from county departments "to get a road map for the future. …