The Bungled Boat Deal
Matt Acuff, an agent with the Loudon County Office of Homeland Security, shows off a $150,000 boat complete with working motors, radar and marine radios which they plan to use on Lake Loudon.

I really hadn't planed to weigh in on the whole, money for a new boat thing, But after receiving a couple of snarky emails about the way I title the story, I guess I will opine.

This is about the issue where a department head went out and obligated the county for an unbudgeted expense without first going to commission.

County government has a process whereby they adopt a budget. This budget is the blueprint for how the county will spend the tax payer's money year to year. Department heads put in their requests then the commission approves and adopts a budget for the year. The commission can amend the budget any time during the year if they choose to depending on a need that might arise. But the hope is that each department will work within their budget till the next budget cycle. The most recent annual budget was just passed a couple of months ago.

In the case of the new army boat recently acquired by the "Homeland Security Department", formerly know as the Emergency Management Department, it seems it might be a case of, easier to get forgiveness than permission. Department head, Darrell Smith, informed the commission he had run across a deal too good to pass up. It was a boat, that from the descriptions I've read is almost magical. It didn't cost the county anything except just $23,000.00 to fix it up and get it running.

Not surprisingly, the majority of commissioners balked at this great deal. Just $23,000.00. Well, that's a lot of money on a maybe.

I'm sure the boat and the other military surplus equipment will be a fine addition to the county's law enforcement fleet and it's very likely they may be needed at some point in time. But does anybody really think that a one time expense to repair the boat is the only cost there will ever be to maintain a boat. Ever owned a boat? Nothing free from the federal government is ever free. 

Mr. Smith made a major mistake by not going first to commission for his request. Just imagine if every department head did this. Wouldn't take long for the county to go broke. this is why there is a budgeting process.

There's another factor to this. This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. Wasn't too many years ago, a school administrator just up and bought two hundred grand of new computers because, they were such a great deal, before getting approval for the purchase. That was a real mess. I'm sure some commissioners remember that one.

Then there was the other boat the county owns and needed so badly. Wasn't that long ago, that boat was found docked at a private residence boat dock and some county employees were, let's see, "patrolling"  Tellico Lake on the weekends on the county dime.

There is a budget process and it should be followed. Maybe next week, the property assessor finds a great deal on a new plotter or the Trustee comes across a can't pass up deal on a new computer deal. Could they just buy them then ask commission for the money? Heck, I hope nobody finds a once in a lifetime deal on a jumbo jet. If one department head can do it, why not the rest.

I'm betting that some commissioners who voted not to fund the 23K boat repairs will feel the political pressure and change their vote to give up the money. But this might be a good time to remind all county department heads that they, ask first and buy later, not the other way around.

I can't help it but this whole story reminds me of the Andy Griffith episode where Barney bought the Army surplus motorcycle and sets up "check point chickie" out on Highway 6. Just how my brain works.