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County forced to delay budget hearing
Auditor's failure to have proper documents ready given as reason

by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

Unanswered questions by the Platte County Auditor’s Office still has the Platte County Commission questioning exactly why the auditor may have dropped the ball in distributing copies of the complete budget document to the public.

Untimely action by the auditor’s office has caused a delay in holding of a public hearing concerning the 2006 proposed budget, county commissioners said this week.

Originally scheduled for Jan. 13, commissioners were informed by County Counselor Bob Shaw that a budget hearing will need to be moved back to 9 a.m. Jan. 17.

The decision to reschedule the budget hearing came after Shaw learned the budget distributed last Tuesday was incomplete.

“We want to eliminate any questions whatsoever about the availability of the budget document,” said Shaw. “The budget document was available on Friday afternoon in a format that should eliminate any questions to its availability.”

As reported in last week’s Landmark, a rough copy of the county’s 2006 proposed budget was handed out at 5 p.m. last Tuesday by Commissioners Tom Pryor and Jim Plunkett, but without some vital information from Auditor Sandra Thomas.

“It was put on the agenda by the auditor and we voted on it (to have the budget available to the public by 5 p.m. last Tuesday). Unfortunately, that day—I don’t know how the circumstances came to be—the auditor’s office was telling the press to contact the commissioners because they would be putting out a budget,” said Plunkett. “Tom (Pryor) and I made copies, assembled the budgets and that’s what I handed out to the media.”

After reading in last week’s Landmark that the newspaper had made a request to Thomas for her budget message on Wednesday morning, Shaw informed the commissioners that the unbinded, incomplete budget copy that was distributed the day before did not meet state statute.

“We found out through the county attorney that what the commission office handed out would not meet state statute,” stated Plunkett. “You can confirm that because the budget handed to you that night did not contain the auditor’s notes.”

According to Plunkett and Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight, state statute says Thomas had to provide a budget with a table of contents, an auditor’s message and an appropriations document 10 days prior to the public hearing.

“It’s not really our responsibility to have the budget printed and available. We are just responsible for holding the hearings,” said Knight.

“She (Thomas) is the budget officer of the county.”

Because those items were not presented last Tuesday with the budget copy the commissioners provided, the county was required to reschedule the hearing.

“The auditor’s office on Friday provided a budget that would meet state statute, so consequently, the public hearing date was changed from the 13th to the 17th.”

Plunkett said the commission has not received any explanation from Thomas about why those documents were not complete as promised in administrative session last Tuesday morning.

“I have not been given an explanation by the auditor about why it was not ready on Tuesday or why it took until Friday (to prepare the document),” said Plunkett.

Knight said she expected the budget to be ready since it was published in the paper with 5 p.m. last Tuesday set as the deadline by Thomas’ office.

“I presumed it was going to be available and I just don’t know why it wasn’t,” said Knight.

Plunkett said that once he realized the media was directed to his office to get copies of the budget last week, he felt an obligation to the public.

“I do feel as a public official that if I made a commitment to meet a deadline I will do everything within my power to carry through with what I said,” he stated.

Thomas declined to comment on the situation, stating: "We talked about this a little last week and I’m not going to comment any further."


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