Town Council Should Control Checkbook

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The Payson Town Council gave up one of its most important oversight responsibilities last week when it gave the town manager and her staff a blank check to spend money without council review.

The previous council and mayor were not watching the town’s expenses, and the result was the town went through millions of rainy day dollars in a year. Town staff kept spending more money than what was coming in the door, resulting in the rainy day fund nearly drying up. Rainy day funds for towns should be for emergency and quite unforeseen expenses, which no one can predict or expect. They should not be used to bail out excessive spending on a month-to-month basis.

Elected officials under the new policy have no way to balance monthly expenditures vs. income. The town council and mayor should be getting monthly income and expenses reports, along with future purchase lists.

Payson operates under the strong council, weak mayor form of government. It is the town council that needs to be the watchdog of the town’s expenses based on information provided by town staff. It takes a majority of council votes to approve or disapprove town policy and expenditures, and that’s as it should be.

The town manager previous to the policy change would return to the council for final approval on such expenses as buying a new town truck. That town truck purchase may have looked good during the budget session some months ago, but with town revenues falling, the council may want to postpone that expense.

Under the new policy the truck is purchased just because it is in the budget, regardless of the amount of money available.

We think the town, whenever possible, should also give preference to Payson businesses. Let’s remember that Payson residents and businesses provide lots of financial fuel for the town. Other towns have practices where local businesses can get a priority. Is it worth paying a few extra dollars to patronize a taxpaying business in Payson? You bet it is.

These businesses are paying Payson and county taxes; employing residents and, more than likely, making a major contribution to the nonprofits in the Rim Country. Is the Utah or Valley business doing the same thing?

The town council needs to review that purchase policy and retake control of town expenses. The town councilors are the ones elected to provide oversight of town business for the benefit of residents. Town staff are not elected, and can only execute policy created by the council.

Town staff should make routine purchases, but items costing $25,000 are not routine purchases. The council needs to establish a dollar limit for town staff purchases, say $5,000, with anything above that coming before the council along with a monthly income and expense report.

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