Report uncovers $600M of government waste in Tenn. - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Report uncovers $600M of government waste in Tenn.

(Source: BeaconTN.org) (Source: BeaconTN.org)
NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - At least four Mid-South counties are under scrutiny for spending more money than they told voters they would spend.

Fayette, Haywood, Lauderdale, and McNairy counties in Tennessee are hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget.

"If you let it happen once and you close your eyes to it, it's going to happen again and again and again," said Justin Owens of Beacon Center of Tennessee, which is a government watchdog group.

Beacon Center of Tennessee publishes the Pork Report every year highlighting government waste across the state.

The most recent report points the finger at leaders in Fayette, Haywood, Lauderdale, and McNairy counties.

According to the report, Fayette County's finances were over budget by almost $250,000. Money designed to fund schools, pay for waste disposal, and fill other general funds is being spent on things not in the yearly budget.

Fayette County's mayor Rhea "Skip" Taylor says his office is aware of the problem.

"We've reviewed these, and we put in place internal procedures to make sure those are reviewed every time," Taylor said.

Mayor Taylor says his main takeaway is that Fayette County needs better centralized accounting procedures to track every dollar.

"Two people can read one rule and come up with two answers," Taylor said. "It would be much better if we had one office doing all of this."

In Lauderdale County, the Pork Report says county leaders spent $57,000 on new patrol cars. The problem: the county did not shop around and open up bidding for the new patrol cars.

That's illegal.

Laws require government groups to keep bidding open to try and find the best value for items they're going to buy. Justin Owens says the law is designed to prevent cronyism, where government leaders buy goods or services from friends, family, or political supporters.

Haywood County taxpayers forked out $41,000 for a new fingerprint machine, another $39,000 for two used patrol cars, and nearly $40,000 for new tires for school buses at Haywood County Schools. None of those items went through the proper bidding requirements.

"We try to comply with the law, but there are occasions that we don't," Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith said. "We didn't fulfill the requirement, as far as advertising fingerprint machines or the vehicles, but we didn't solicit bids locally."

When asked if that was against the law, Smith said, "Well it's a violation, yeah, and I get written up for it."

But Justin Owens says these errors are indicative of more than just an accounting error.

"They are spending more taxpayer money than they said they were going to, and just like a family that has to put a budget together, and abide by it in order to stay fiscally responsible, we should expect our cities and counties to do the same," Owens said.

The Beacon Center's investigation uncovered more than $6 million in government waste in Tennessee. If you want to check up on how your government is spending your money, click here.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.
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