Commissioners look at new county policies

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — County commissioners are mulling over policies which will affect the way Surry County does business.

On Jan. 2 Finance Officer Sarah Bowen presented three policies — a purchasing policy, a financial policy and a procurement card policy — to the Surry County Board of Commissioners.

The board will consider approving the policies at its second January meeting on Jan. 17.

“It will reduce the number of procurement cards by about 65 percent,” said Bowen of that plan.

In answering a question from the board, Bowen noted county department heads had yet to review the policies.

“Will this (reduction in the number of procurement cards) create a hardship on county departments?” asked Commissioner Van Tucker.

Bowen indicated she believed the policy would not adversely affect the business of county government.

If the new policy is passed, smaller county departments — those with 10 or less employees — will receive only one procurement card. The card will be held by the department head or his or her designee. Departments with more than 10 employees will hold two cards — one for the department head and another for the department’s purchasing agent.

The cards may be used for small purchases, which would be defined as any purchase of less than $750.

Financial policy

The county began working toward instituting a financial policy in mid-2016. Commissioners opted to hire a consulting firm from Charlotte to help formulate a set plan for the board and future boards to use when appropriating monies.

The draft policy would cover all matters regarding how the county allocates, invests, borrows and saves money. However, Bowen highlighted how the policy addresses the county’s fund balance.

“We want to be at 25 percent,” said Bowen.

She explained the county currently has a contingency fund equivalent to 13 percent of the county’s annual expenditures. The Local Government Commission requires all local and county governments to maintain a contingency fund equal to at least eight percent of annual expenditures. The commission recommends a balance of 12 percent, however, for counties of Surry County’s size.

Bowen noted 25 percent is a good goal for the county to set for itself.

Purchasing policy

Bowen spoke little of the purchasing policy before commissioners, only noting it would streamline the purchasing process.

North Carolina General Statutes set certain criteria for purchasing, such as identifying which expenditures must go to a formal bid process and what sort of approval a contract needs. For instance, the county board must approve a contract of $30,000 or more. Lesser expenditures may be approved by the county manager or assistant county manager.

In a subsequent interview, Bowen said the county’s current purchasing policy addresses all of the statutory requirements. If passed, the new policy will make a major change in instituting centralized purchasing.

“Over time the goal is to save money,” said Bowen, explaining that requiring all purchasing to go through her office will allow the county to buy in bulk and levy better rates on supplies. Currently, purchasing is handled at the department level.

Bowen noted some realigning of job responsibilities and possibly the addition of a position in her department could be a result of the new policy.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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