Two Franklin County commissioners refuse to sign warrant to pay nonprofits
FARMINGTON — Two of Franklin County’s three commissioners refused Tuesday to sign a warrant that would pay a combined budget of $163,400 for seven social service, education and economic development organizations this fiscal year.
President Terry Brann of Wilton and Lance Harvell of Farmington opposed signing the warrants.
Commissioners stopped funding outside organizations in 2018-19 and 2019-20 after notifying them by mail. They offset the amount raised by tax by drawing more from the non-designated fund.
Programs may be paid for by the county’s allotment of the US Federal Bailout Act.
In June, a majority of the nine-member Budget Advisory Committee approved the inclusion of the money in the $7.7 million budget.
At the time, Acting Commissioner Bob Carlton of Freeman Township favored giving grants to agencies, while Harvell and Brann opposed it.
A coalition of members of the organization approached the committee after the budget was reviewed by commissioners in the spring, asking for money to help keep older people at home and active in their communities.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Brann said he was dismayed the committee hadn’t asked agencies for more information, including salaries. He previously said some CEOs and other senior executives earn more than the average Franklin County resident.
Farmington’s Fen Fowler had provided the committee with information about the organizations, including what the money would be used for. It included some employee salaries.
Brann reiterated that the organizations’ representatives have proven over the past two years that they don’t need county money because they have continued to operate.
Carlton said commissioners followed the budget process and did not vote unanimously to rescind the committee’s budget.
This left the Commissioners the option of not signing the money order.
The county taxes residents but does not donate to nonprofits, Carlton said. “It’s a huge disservice to taxpayers.” He said residents of Farmington, Jay and Wilton receive the most services.
The funds will remain in county coffers.
Brann said the money will return to taxpayers next year when the tax assessment is offset by unrestricted funds. “I think it’s being fiscally responsible,” he said.
Carlton noted that auditor Ron Smith said earlier this month that there was $2.2 million in the undesignated fund balance, which could go down to between $1.3 million and $1. $5 million while giving the county a good cushion.
Harvell said he wanted to meet with some nonprofit stakeholders. He said he would be willing to pay the county’s $163,400 American Rescue Plan Act allowance for a year and go from there.
The county expects to receive $5.86 million from the federal government.
Fowler read the state law covering the Franklin County budget process. He says that the budget advisory committee must adopt a final budget and submit it to the commissioners. The commissioners can increase, decrease, modify or revise the budget only unanimously. If there is a unanimous vote to change the budget, it is up to the committee, which would need a two-thirds majority vote to overrule the commissioners’ decision.
“You really change” the budget by not paying the bills, Fowler said.
Committee chair Tiffany Maiuri, an elected official from Wilton, said during the committee’s budget discussions that the commissioners have the final say on the disbursement of funds.
County Administrator Amy Bernard confirmed on Tuesday that “commissioners have the power of the purse.” This is clear from state law, she said.