MADISON - A debate over the transfer of funds ensued during the Boone County Commission's regular session on July 30.
Boone County Economic Development director Kris Mitchell approached the commission regarding a transfer of approximately $156,875.82 in funds. The request was tabled by the commission after an extensive discussion.
Via email after the meeting, Mitchell explained the desire for the movement of the money.
"Earlier this year, the Boone County Development Authority was re-created to hold property for the Commission," Mitchell said. "We agreed to move economic development activities to the Authority. At that time, we were told to handle our own payroll and bills. That is the reason the money transfer was requested. If we are to pay the bills, we need access to that money to do so. It was discussed by the Commission at the previous two July meetings. Frankly, I was truly surprised at the response. This money came from rent in this building which we manage. It was designated for economic development. We are working on two projects for which we need matching money. That is the purpose of the account. Instead, it was suggested that the Commission sweep the account and divide it among the elected officials."
Boone County Commissioner Brett Kuhn denies that there were previous discussions to sweep the account at the present time.
"It was never suggested that the account be swept and divided amongst the elected officials," Kuhn said. "The sweeping of the accounts was mentioned in the case of an emergency and not to be done at the present time."
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph addressed the commissioners about the legality of the transfer. Kuhn spoke against the transfer of funds after Randolph made it clear to commissioners that if the transfer were made, the county would (most likely) have no access to the funds in an emergency.
"I think this is something we need to talk about a little bit more," Kuhn said in the meeting. "If you look at the budget crunch we're in right now, $157,000 is quite a bit of money and we need to take another look at it before we make a decision on it."
Mitchell responded, "It was tabled at the last meeting and I thought that is what you guys were doing was taking a look at it for the last couple of weeks and discussing it with Keith (Randolph)."
Mitchell explained how the money was generated.
"The fund was created from the rent money that comes out of the business incubator and it was designated for economic development."
Randolph quickly responded, "It is a county fund, it was created by the order of the county commission and is county money made on county property," he said. "In certain cases, the county commission can sweep those accounts and place the money back into county revenue. Certainly, they can do that. Legally, the county commission can sweep that account and take that money. The question is are we there and is that what we are going to do and that is a decision that you are going to have to make."
Randolph said his previous statement was from the legal standpoint of the matter. He then spoke as an elected official experiencing a financial crisis with Boone County and encouraged other officials to do the same.
"Going through what we're facing, I'm not sure this is the best time to be doing something like that," he said. "We're facing cuts and discussing the budget more in the coming months. That being the case, let's see where the budget goes before we start transferring money because once you transfer it, I'm not sure you can sweep that account."
Commission President Eddie Hendricks, who also serves on the economic development board, responded.
"In order to have economic development, we've got to have funds available and we're working on several projects up on Hobet (Rock Creek Development)," Hendricks said. "If you have no money for economic development it's hard to look at doing it."
Boone County Sheriff Randall White then addressed the commission.
"Why are you going to give $156,000 away," he said. "Why not put it back into the general fund where it's going to help everybody instead of a couple. How are you going to justify these guys back here when you have to lay them off or I have to lay deputies off?"
Hendricks quickly stated, "The money belongs to us."
White then stated, "That is county money. It belongs to the county. Taxpayers' money. You've got the right in an emergency and if we're not in an emergency, I don't know where we're at."
Hendricks asked the sheriff if he thought economic development was important.
"No, I don't," he said. "I don't think it's more important than my uniformed guys out here trying to protect this county."
History of the BCCDC
According to Mitchell, the Boone County Community Development Corporation (Corporation) is a 501c3 that was created 20 years ago to promote community, economic development and tourism.
At that time, the Boone County Development Authority (Authority), a creature of the County Commission under 7-12 of the West Virginia Code, was dissolved. In 2002, the address of 1 Avenue C was created as a business incubator.
According to past commission minutes, the rent money was to be designated to an account (EDA) to be used only for economic development.
Four years ago, according to Mitchell, then-county administrator Jim Gore began paying bills from that account. They included all utilities for the building and all related supplies. Later that was expanded to include other bills related to the corporation such as office supplies and professional services.
During that time, according to Mitchell, only the county administrators have held signature authority on the account and most bills deducted from the account were sent directly to their office and never seen by the corporation employees or board members. Mitchell expressed that she and the board feel that they should have the right of review and approval because they are responsible for it.
The Boone County Commission meets again at 1:30 p.m. on Aug 6 for their regular session.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter