County credit card use and late fees
by Linda Moore
Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, requested that his county credit card limit be increased. It came to public attention that we were paying late fees on county credit cards. The credit cards belong to you and me, "tax payers". This caused some contention amongst folks regarding information pertaining to the credit cards. I told the folks I would hunt information so that we would all be better educated. I was fortunate in being able to sit down with County Mayor D. Gary Davis, to ask him some questions pertaining to the credit cards. During this Q & A, Mayor Davis showed me the records and explained how the system worked.
The credit card limit is $5,000.00 per month. The sheriff is requesting that the limit be raised to $10,000.00. There are approx. seven cards at the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. The way that the cards work is that they are all linked. The lump total for all seven cards is $5000.00. So if one person went into a store and purchased $5000.00 on one card and ten minutes later another person tried to use another of the credit cards, the limit would have been reached ten minutes prior. Also, the $5,000.00 is a safety net limit for the county. Anything that is purchased that is over $5000.00 is mandated to be bid.
The day that the county receives the invoices from the credit card company is the day that the county delivers the bill to all the various departments in the county. There is more than ample time to return the department's credit card receipts for payment. The mayor has a record keeping system that runs like clock work. The system lists the date the county receives the invoice, (they are sent to the departments on that day), the date that the receipts are returned to the county office, the date the credit card payments are due, the date that they are actually paid and the amount of the late fee if there is one. This system also gives the percentage of what amount of money is actually spent on travel and the percentage not spent on travel. Bradley County policy strongly encourages "travel only" credit card spending.
For your consideration are the questions submitted to Mayor Davis and his responses.
LM: Why does the sheriff want a credit card limit extended?
Mayor Davis: "Because when he or one of his officers goes to a hotel and his card is rejected, he thinks it's because the limit is too low".
LM: Why is the county opposed to extending the limit?
Mayor Davis: "Research shows that the largest amount of charges in any given month is less than $3.500.00. The credit card is for travel only. Any other use is discouraged.
LM: Are tax payers paying late fees on credit cards?
Mayor Davis: "Yes, for the sheriff's department about 50% of the time".
LM: Why are tax payers paying late fees?
Mayor Davis: "We have paid late fees for the BCSO five out of the last eleven months. Our policy requires our department head or elected official to sign off on the bill and return to the mayor's office all receipts for approval. This often comes back to the mayor's office too late to be paid on time.
LM: Are any other departments late with their receipts?
Mayor Davis:"I don't recall knowing of any other Visa bills being late except there were some problems with EMA back when Tim was the EMA director".
LM: Why doesn't the county just pay all the bills when they come in instead of waiting on the receipts?
Mayor Davis: "I have a responsibility to be accountable to the taxpayers. It has always been felt by our commission that if there are going to be credit cards issued to employees that they should be accountable also. When a county employee uses a county credit card, they are required to turn in the receipt as a safeguard for the taxpayers. The elected official then approves the bill for payment"
LM: How many credit cards does the BCSD have?
Mayor Davis: "I think it is seven".
LM: What is the total limit of all the cards?
Mayor Davis: "Five thousand dollars".
Folks, I did look at all the credit card receipts for each month. There was not one month in the entire time span, (almost a year), where the total reached any where near five thousand dollars. When I asked the Mayor if any other departments were late with payments he left the office to check with Lynn Burns to make absolute certain. I noted that 31% of the whole total spent was not for travel. It is possible that a need may arise, (such as a crime scene investigation and film is needed for a camera), where a credit card might be used. The mayor insisted that it is a simple thing to turn in a credit card receipt. The mayor showed me his one receipt in his top drawer for this month.
I very much appreciate the Mayor taking time to explain the credit card system and for sharing the information with me so that I could share it with all of you. Education for all of us is a very good thing.