Small examples of waste raise bigger concerns

Small examples of waste raise bigger concerns

May 29th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

A few dollars here and there may not seem like much. And in the grand scheme of government budgets, they're not. But when area governments and government agencies waste the money that you work so hard to earn - even in small amounts - it's frustrating and disrespectful.

It also speaks to a bigger problem: Many of the bureaucrats and elected officials responsible for being careful stewards of your money simply aren't. That's what the Free Press editorial page learned by sifting through credit card statements, purchase orders and other financial documents of area government agencies.

Bureaucrats in Bradley County, for example, are often late paying the county's credit card bills. As a result, taxpayers are left footing the bill for late fees and finance charge payments.

An examination of statements related to Visa cards used by the Bradley County Sheriff's Office uncovered a $29 late fee and $9.27 in finance charges resulting from a past due payments in July 2012. In December, Visa sent Michelle Kamplain, the administrative assistant to Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis, a warning that the account was again past-due and assessed the county another $3.77 finance charge.

Still, Bradley County's bookkeeping did not improve. In January, records show that Kamplain received another late notice and the county was slapped with yet another finance charge, this time in the amount of $16.05.

While $58 in late fees and finance charges will hardly break the bank, it's an indication that the people in charge of Bradley County's finances are either inept or lazy. After all, there was plenty of money in the county's coffers to pay the credit card bills and avoid the past-due penalty and finance charges. Still, the finance officials couldn't be bothered to pay the statements on time and county taxpayers have to pay the price.

EPB, Chattanooga's taxpayer-owned electric utility (and publicly-subsidized Internet, cable and telephone operation), used $659 of customers' cash to buy 375 holiday cards last Christmas - and another $169 to mail the fancy greetings.

The heavyweight black holiday cards featured a red foil Christmas gift, silver stars and a gold embossed EPB logo and replica of the signature of EPB President and CEO Harold DePriest. (Apparently actually signing them would've been too much trouble for DePriest.) The 2012 edition of the fancy holiday cards was just the latest in a long line of EPB Christmas cards that cost EPB electric customers a pretty penny. The record for EPB's most expensive holiday cards came in 2010, when the cards cost Chattanoogans almost $1,100.

Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton may be tough on crime, but his deputies are being tough on taxpayers' wallets. Several Meigs County deputies and Emergency Services employees unnecessarily fill up their work vehicles with premium gas at the expense of Meigs County taxpayers - even though their cars and trucks only call for regular unleaded.

Despite what auto makers and gas companies tell you, the benefits of using premium gas over regular are nearly nonexistent unless you have a high-performance vehicle. The Ford Crown Victorias, Ford Explorers and Jeep Cherokees used by the Meigs County Sheriff's Department are far from high performance.

The absurd practice of using county fuel cards to needlessly buy premium gas cost Meigs County residents about $360 a year.

In each case, the amounts frittered away are relatively small, but the message sent by those wasted dollars is clear: In the Bradley County finance office, at the highest levels of EPB and within the Meigs County Sheriff's Department exist public servants who don't care about the public. We should keep that in mind the next time any of these agencies ask for more of our money.