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Nash policy reduces number of county-issued credit cards

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NASHVILLE — Nash County commissioners on Monday approved a comprehensive policy on county government’s use of credit cards, despite a rare public display of confusion by the staff.

The policy details which county departments can be issued procurement cards through Bank of America, which are intended for purchases no larger than $500.

It also stipulates when and how the cards should be used, and specifically prohibits their use for personal purchases. Much of the policy sets forth how the finance department will verify and validate card expenditures to ensure accuracy, honesty and transparency.

The policy, which commissioners first saw last month but was amended to add three more departments, was intended to cut down on the number of county-issued credit cards in response to unspecified incidents of employee misuse. 

County board Chairman Robbie Davis said the county was using 54 cards prior to the policy, and under the new policy described by Finance Officer Donna Wood, the number would now be 21.

Another reason for the policy, Wood said, was for convenience and efficiency. When Commissioner Fred Belfield asked why some departments had been left off the list, she said, “It was just simpler for smaller departments for the finance department to handle it internally.”

“We ought to have a purchasing agent for all these departments,” Belfield suggested.

“I think a purchasing department would be great to have a centralized process,” Wood said. ‘We just don’t have the staff, but I would be open to looking at that.”

“I think it’s a great first step,” Davis said, noting that a full purchasing department is “something we have to work toward.”

“We do have a purchasing department within the finance office,” County Manager Zee Lamb pointed out. “What these cards deal with is purchases less than $500. It is a convenience for the various departments.”

He added that he and the assistant county manager would not have cards.

Wood said the original policy had reduced the number of cards to 10, but the number swelled to 21 with additional departments and some departments said they needed more than one card.

“The procurement card simplifies the purchasing process if the department has a lot of transactions,” she said.

Wood said other cards could be issued if other departments later asked for one.

The prospect of more cards set off an unusual tension between Lamb and Wood, strong enough for the board to notice.

“I’m just a little concerned that she intends to provide a card to everyone who asks for an additional card,” Lamb said.

Wood responded quickly that commissioners would have to approve additional card requests. But Lamb said he didn’t want that either.

He said he wanted Wood to have the authority to give out cards as needed without seeking board approval.

But, he said, “I’m concerned we’re not getting the cards down as we’ve needed so everyone doesn’t have to carry a county credit card. I’m not sure every department doesn’t need more than one and certainly no more than three.”

“It seems like we’re not quit in sync this morning,” Davis observed, suggesting the board table the policy until any differences could be resolved.

“There’s way too much discussion on this this morning,” agreed Commissioner Wayne Outlaw.

“I do think the policy is ready to go,” Wood insisted. “It’s just the number of cards. I would like the policy approved and I will work with the county manager to issue the cards.”

Outlaw said the board should approve the policy as written, set the number of initial cards at 14 and leave it up to the county manager’s discretion if “they think other cards are needed.”

He said he understood that Lamb and Wood would decide on the number of cards. He said the staff “need to have an adult discussion on that. You can sit down and figure it out.”

“They (the departments) really need to understand it,” Belfield said of the policy.

The board unanimously approved the card policy, giving Wood and Lamb leeway to adjust the number of cards.

In other business, the board gave its first of two required votes for approval to renew franchise agreements with three ambulance companies for transporting patients when the regular Nash EMS staff could not do so.

EMS Director Brian Brantley said North State Medical Transport, Eastern Medical Transport and Metz Medical Transport had provided satisfactory assistance on 160 calls, mostly for inter-county transfers, during the year.

“They have all shown a high degree of professionalism,” he said. “We get slammed sometimes, just can’t take the call, and they get right on it.”

The board’s approval was unanimous and the final vote will be taken in August.

Brantley also thanked commissioners for their support during the COVID-19 crisis and praised the EMS employees for their work.

“Our employees are showing true professionalism to protect themselves, their families and the community,” he said, noting, “If we get infected, we can certainly infect the community.”

In another piece of COVID-19 business, Wood submitted an amended COVID-19 grant ordinance that reflected the addition of $162,206 in federal funds for the Nash County Board of Elections and an additional $1,784,259 from the state coronavirus relief funds.

While most projected expenditure categories were increased, the most dramatic set-aside was for municipal grants, from $200,000 initially to $892,130.

Davis asked if some of the additional money could help with something like a homeless shelter’s pandemic-related expenses.

“Yes, sir,” Lamb said. “We’re going to have to get together. We put the dollars in there (the ordinance budget) but we haven’t designated anything to go to, so we’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

Wood said the county has the ordinance prepared but hasn’t received the actual funds.