JASPER, Tenn. — When the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted last month to lower the mayor's discretionary spending limit from $10,000 to $5,000, officials couldn't find the ordinance that initially set that limit.
"I don't know if there's one or not," City Attorney Mark Raines said. "But, since we couldn't find an ordinance, you know, I felt that we needed an ordinance to, I guess, get us in compliance with the law."
At the board's March meeting, Raines said Ordinance 392 would set the threshold for public advertisement and competitive sealed bids for purchases at $5,000.
Before the vote in February, the board agreed to make an exception on purchases for chemicals needed at the town's water and sewer treatment plant, and the ordinance sets the limit on those purchases at $10,000.
"So, this kind of gets us, I guess, in compliance with state law," Raines said. "At least, it gives us something to fall back on if someone came in and said, 'Why is your ordinance or why is your rule that you are limited to $5,000?' This is the document that we can give them because this is what the board voted to do."
The board voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance on first reading.
A public hearing and a second reading and vote at the board's next regular meeting on April 8 will be required before the action becomes law in Jasper.
Vice Mayor Paul West said the ordinance to set the mayor's spending limit was originally approved in 2000.
"We couldn't find it," Raines said. "I'm not saying it wasn't. I just know we couldn't find it because we looked."
West said the reason the limit was raised 19 years ago was that "it was becoming a problem."
Raines said lowering the limit may become a problem again.
"They were having problems over here at the fire department and trying to buy equipment," West said. "They were constantly running up against this $5,000 law here, so the board, at that time, raised it to $10,000."
West said he thought some board members might have been confusing the mayor's spending limit with the town's bidding limit.
"I think there's still some confusion there," he said. "The bid limit has nothing to do with the board being in on whatever discretionary amount of money is being spent day-to-day without board approval."
He asked the other board members if they thought they were acting on the bid limit.
"No, spending limit," Alderman Jason Turner replied.
"That $10,000 limit made life much easier on the previous board," West said.
Alderman Josh Jennings asked if money that is already allocated in the city budget, which is previously approved by the board, could be spent by the mayor without additional board approval.
"I think that's true as long as it doesn't have to be bid," Raines said.
He said if the board appropriates $7,000 to buy softball uniforms, the mayor can spend that money, but if the board solicits bids on a product and those bids exceed $5,000, city leaders would have to select and vote on those bids during an official meeting.
"It's when it's not in the budget, particularly identified, then you get an outside bid," Raines said. "That's when the board has to approve it."
Mayor Paul Evans, who voted against the ordinance, asked if buying a new motor for the water and sewer plant would be included in the $10,000 exception.
"It says chemicals, mayor," Raines said. "[Motors] — they're not chemicals."
"So, anything else that's related to the water and sewer or anything else — patrol car that's wrecked, and it has to be repaired," Evans said. "If it's over the $5,000, it's going to have to be [voted on by the board]."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org