A question whether to dip into the county's line of credit to buy a paint-striping machine for Ooltewah High School sparked another round Wednesday in the ongoing debate over Hamilton County Commission discretionary funds.facebook
Chairman Chester Bankston asked his colleagues to approve $3,400 for the machine, which paints stripes on athletic fields. Bankston said he didn't have enough left-over bond money in his discretionary fund.
Bankston said county finance officials told him the expenditure was lawful, but several commissioners objected.
"Bond money to paint stripes on a football field?"said Commissioner Greg Beck. "We can go now and get bond money from the finance department for these small projects now? Is that the way it's going now?"
"That's the way this one went," Bankston responded.
Then, Beck said, "Can anybody tell me what the limit is?"
Commissioner Joe Graham said Bankston should seek another solution. He suggested Bankston use the balance in his discretionary fund to pay one-third of the machine's cost, and let the Ooltewah parents and students raise the rest.
"To use bond money as discretionary money just because we can is the slippery slope," nibbling away at the credit line rather than using the money for big capital projects like school buildings, Graham said.
He raised the specter of damage to the county's AAA bond rating, a ranking that means it can borrow money on very favorable terms.
But Vice Chairman Randy Fairbanks took a swing at what he called the "bashing of spending this money." When commissioners don't agree with spending, they wave the bond-rating flag, he said.
"I don't believe that," Fairbanks said, adding any project that attracts five commission votes demonstrably has value.
For the second year in a row, Mayor Jim Coppinger didn't put money for the $100,000-per-commissioner funds in this year's budget.
Last year commissioners voted to take the money from the county's reserves, leading to Coppinger vetoing his own budget and a commission override. Commissioners this year have said little publicly about the omission but several lamented its loss Wednesday and said they're the best judges of the needs in their districts.
Coppinger said, as he has before, that any commissioner can come to him and seek funding for their districts' needs.
"I don't want anybody to think anyone will be deprive of a need," he said, adding, "We deny wants all the time."
Commissioners passed the request 5-3. Bankston, Fairbanks, Tim Boyd, Warren Mackey and Sabrena Smedley voted yes, while Graham, Beck and Jim Field voted no.