When it comes to money, nothing’s simple

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Nothing creates more issues than money.

Who has it? Who doesn’t have it? Is it being handled properly?

A squabble at the Barnwell County Council meeting last week is a perfect example of that.

The basis of the issue is a move by District 3 County Councilman Keith Sloan to move all funds handled by county entities under the county treasurer.

Sounds simple, right?

As always in politics, there is more to be considered at issue. It’s rarely, if ever, really simple.

The only two entities that will really be impacted by this move are those overseen by the Barnwell County Airport Commission and the Economic Development Commission. Each of these organizations have oversight of enterprise accounts which hold thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars. These commissions have overseen these accounts for years and are mindful that these funds have special restrictions – they can only be used for very specific purposes.

It is our understanding that one of the reasons the former Economic Development Commission members deeded over all their assets to the municipalities three years ago is that they didn’t trust the Barnwell County Council to keep their account just for Barnwell County and just for economic development.

Fast forward three years - same county council but newly-created EDC (with lots of municipal input), controls on the checking account that allows for daily spending but requires the EDC, the county administrator and/or council approval for anything major.

The Airport Commission also has an enterprise fund that has Federal Aviation Administration protocols and can only be used for the airport. Commission members are very particular about oversight of the fund to make sure it is used properly.

All the money, at its very base, belongs to the people of Barnwell County.

The fear that Councilman Sloan and Joe Smith voiced at the last council meeting is that commissioners could write a check and clean out these accounts.

But not necessarily THESE commissioners - “These are good people doing a great job,” said Sloan.

The councilmen said that had the EDC funds been under the treasurer three years ago, they would have never been able to deed the money over to the municipalities.

Whether the EDC members three years ago were right or wrong is still up for public debate. They didn’t break the law, according to an investigation. But they did create a big mess for the county council to resolve.

So, it comes down to a matter of trust.

Who has control of the money? Should it be moved under the treasurer?

Sloan says it will create a necessary paper trail and auditing process.

He’s an accountant by profession. To him, it is basic accounting protocols.

It will make it less likely that money can be misappropriated by an employee or someone who acquires the checking account information. (Our words, not Sloan’s)

Sloan says the money will still be completely designated to their individual entities. They would just have to ask for the money to be transferred should it be needed.

The question others have is: Does having to “ask” mean that someone else (the treasurer or the county council) now have control? Sometime in the future, could these funds be moved completely under county council control and moved into the General Fund?

Thousands of dollars can be pretty tempting when it comes to political decisions. Is this what the former EDC members feared three years ago?

At last week’s council meeting, the vote was split.

Councilmen Keith Sloan, Joe Smith, Freddie Houston and David Kenner voted in favor of the controls.

Councilmen Jerry Creech, Harold Buckmon and Lowell Jowers voted against.

And tempers flared.

Obviously, the issue is not a simple matter.

It is vital to have checks and balances or protocols in place, especially when it comes down to taxpayer funds, but it is also important to ensure these funds are always used in the manner for which they were intended.

Trust and money – a complicated issue.

The simple question for all to consider: What is best for Barnwell County?