Do county officials have a responsibility to stay within budget?

within the cash available at any given time. A budget is based on projected revenues expected to come in over a 12-month period. Te budget is not based on “cash in the bank” on day one of the year. Some county officials “go over their budgets” very carefully


— week after week, month after month making sure they re- main in compliance with the constraints of the appropriated funds for their office operations. Other county officials just “go over their budgets.” Tat should not be. Budgets are real and should be realistic. Jacob Lew, a for-

mer U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, said in reference to the federal budget, “Te budget is not just a collection of num- bers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” Te county budget should be the same — not just a collection of numbers, but also an expression of priorities as established by the quorum court. Yes, they get to set the priorities. Some years you may like it — other times — maybe not. But it’s your job as an elected official to work within the financial perimeters set by the court. As the legislative branch of county government, the quo-

rum court is given the authority by the state constitution [Amendment 55] and state law to adopt ordinances neces- sary for the government of the county, including the adop- tion of a county budget through an appropriation ordinance as prescribed in Title 14, Chapter 14, Subchapter 9 of Ar- kansas Code Annotated. U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, a Republican from Illinois in the 1950s and 60s was attributed with saying, “A billion here, a billion there — sooner or later it adds up to real money.” In Arkansas county government we would say, “a thousand here, a thousand there — before long it adds up to real money. County quorum courts should be — in fact must be — in tune with the county’s needs and then be thoughtful and professional in allocating precious financial resources in the form of appropriations so the fiscal affairs of the county are conducted on a sound financial basis in accordance with Ar- kansas Constitution, Article 12, § 4. It also is the court’s re- sponsibility to properly establish priorities as set forth in § 14-14-802. Each county official and department head must then be diligent in how they expend the appropriated funds for their office to get the best bang for the buck and serve their constituency to the best of their ability under the constraints of the budget given them — the legal limit of their spending. Does the quorum court get to tell a county official how and


he short answer to the question is “yes.” A county official is responsible for staying within his or her budget — the appropriation provided by the quorum court. Tere also is a responsibility to live

for what to expend their appropriation? Te simple answer to that question is “no.” While the quorum court should always be concerned with ensuring fis- cal responsibility, there is this thing called “separation of powers doctrine.” County government is somewhat like state government. County govern- ment is comprised of separate branches in order to provide a system of checks and balances. Under the classic division of powers, the legislature [quorum court] makes the laws and appropriates public revenues, the executive branch [county officials] administers the laws and expends the appropriations, and the judiciary interprets the laws. No one questions the power of the quorum court, the leg-

islative branch of county government, to appropriate county funds. However, it does not follow that a legislative body re- tains the right to administer a previously approved appropria- tion. Te Arkansas Supreme Court recognized this principle of separation of powers in the case of Chaffin v. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (1988). Te Arkansas Attorney General has issued several opinions

over the years addressing this issue. Te opinions cite case law and the separation of powers doctrine. To summarize the con- clusion of these opinions, the quorum court may not attach conditions to an appropriation which purport to reserve to the quorum court powers of close supervision that are executive in character. Te quorum court cannot do indirectly through means of line item appropriations and conditions what it is impermissible for it to do directly. Line item appropriations become constitutionally impermissible when the authority of the executive branch [county officials] is infringed by legisla- tive control over expenditures. In other words, a county official does not have to come be-

fore the quorum court for approval before purchasing equip- ment or anything else as long as there is a validly adopted existing appropriation by the quorum court for the expen- diture. Neither can an appropriation ordinance get into the specifics of requiring that an official buy a specific brand or do business with a specific vendor. Remember, the legislative branch — the quorum court — makes the appropriation. Te executive branch — the county officials — administers the appropriation. Many counties have an article/section in their budget ordi- nance addressing nonrestricted expenditure categories, which basically allows for the transfer between line items in each of

See “BUDGETS” on Page 20 >>> 19

Eddie A. Jones County Consultant


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