Cooper: The discretionary funds argument

Cooper: The discretionary funds argument

November 9th, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd has proposed commissioners once again receive $100,000 apiece in discretionary funds for their districts.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

They're back!

Just when you thought the days of discretionary funds for Hamilton County commissioners had rolled into history, at least four commissioners want to resurrect them.

And they've come armed only with the same old argument to do it — we know better than anyone what our constituents need.

Four commissioners (Tim Boyd, who made the motion, Chester Bankston, Warren Mackey and new Commissioner David Sharpe) on Wednesday voted to bring the funds back — by pulling out $100,000 for each commissioner from bond proceeds when the new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2019 — but four commissioners (Randy Fairbanks, Greg Martin, Sabrena Smedley and new Commissioner Chip Baker) voted against the resolution. Commissioner Katherlyn Geter was ill and did not attend the meeting, so she would be a potential tie-breaking vote when in all likelihood the measure is brought up again.

To the argument favoring the funds, we would offer the same response we have in the past. It's not about the needs. With perhaps a few exceptions, we would not quibble with what the money has been spent on in the past — schools tracks, band uniforms, computers, volunteer fire departments, school baseball fields, public libraries, playground equipment, inner-city youth programs, scholarship funds, school security, signs, school stadium restrooms and the list goes on.

For the most part, the wider public has benefited from these expenditures. When funds have gone to vague "community development programs," "neighborhood outreach" and for specific church and civic club needs, we're not sure the wider public always benefited and worry where some of the money might have landed.

It's the county commissioner-as-beneficent-grantor that bothers us. Because for every donation that is made, more than a dozen others go unfulfilled, perhaps even unexpressed. Some even may be more worthy of funding than the one that does receive funds.

Just as every commissioner is different, every commissioner spends his or her dollars differently. While this commissioner spends funds on sculptures and ballet, this one loads up on recreation associations. Where this one puts money into scholarship funds, this one puts dollars into volunteer fire departments.

We think the availability of discretionary funds — when they could be counted on annually — also made the individuals and organizations who sought them less willing to consider whether the request was more of a need than a want, and less willing to figure out how they could get the funds without relying on their commissioner.

To their credit, during the years when funds were provided annually, some commissioners came up with sound policies that dealt with their distribution. At least one, for instance, formed a committee to consider how such funds might be best spent. Another expended funds only with skin in the game from the recipient.

The argument also has been made that a commissioner is buying his re-election with these dispensed funds. We understand that sentiment, but it can also work against a commissioner. For every "We'll remember you next election" they hear, they may not hear several mutters of "you'll never get my vote since you didn't fund my project."

No, we believe any expenditure that is felt to be a public need is worth putting in the budget. That way, at budget time, if commissioners have to justify the items they want to be included, perhaps Mayor Jim Coppinger — whose office delivers the budget — will feel equally compelled to answer for any nonprofit he has included in his plan.

We're also sympathetic to the argument that pulling $900,000 from the county's bond money might: a) possibly cause the county to have to reduce another project (according to county Finance Administrator Al Kiser), and/or b) might damage the county's AAA bond rating, a rating Hamilton is one of just a few counties in the state to have and one that allows them to borrow money more cheaply than other counties.

With Geter present, the issue is bound to come up again sooner rather than later. It could be that some commissioners believe, after voting Wednesday to allow leftover expense money from one year to roll into discretionary money the next, this is the ideal time to seek the return of the big kahuna in discretionary funds. After all, their election to four-year terms is only three months in the rearview mirror.

However, while we affirm that discretionary spending has improved the lives for students, upgraded facilities for recreation leagues and better outfitted first responders, and we acknowledge commissioners have the sharpest eyes and ears on their district, we feel a discretionary fund pool should not be put back into each commissioner's hand. True needs should be put in the annual budget or requested separately by the commission as they come up.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...