UC counties get mention in annual ‘Pork Report’

Beacon Center releases annual analysis of ‘wasteful government spending report’

UPPER CUMBERLAND – A handful of Upper Cumberland counties were mentioned in a non-profit group’s annual “pork report,” which aims to air wasteful government spending across the state.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee released its ninth annual 2014 Pork Report on Wednesday, exposing more than $600 million in state and local government waste, including more than $1 million in the UC.

For the region, perhaps the biggest mention was former Putnam County Property Assessor Travis Roberts and his misuse of the county credit card. Under the headline, “Penmanship prized in Putnam County,” the Beacon report says the following: “Government-issued credit card misuse is a problem in many Tennessee counties. In 2013 and 2014, Putnam County Property Assessor Travis Roberts used his county credit card to get into the computer business. He spent $2,355 to purchase at least eight computers that he later sold or traded. During this time, he also purchased numerous premium pens and pencils that added up to $754. When state investigators asked for his justification, Roberts blamed his pride in penmanship, according to the audit report. Good penmanship is definitely a lost art, but county funds shouldn’t be used to revive it.”

Roberts resigned in March after publicly confessing he had an addiction to pain medication.

Also in the report:

Five Upper Cumberland counties were ousted for having “Budgets busting at the seams.” According to the state Comptroller, several local governments and utilities spent more money than appropriated by their county legislative bodies, including:

Cannon County, general purpose school fund, $35,009;

Jackson County, general debt service fund and general fund, $20,266 and $238,610, respectively;

Overton County, general purpose school, school federal projects, central cafeteria fund, school department, $434,754 total;

Pickett County, general fund, $77,724; highway/public works Fund, $89,533; central cafeteria fund, $2,746; and drug control fund, $10,641;

And Warren County, general debt service fund, $43,776.

In a section of the report titled, “Bid farewell to your hard-earned dollars,” two UC counties were mentioned for failing to advertise for competitive bids on services. This law exists, the Beacon report says, to make sure that there is no partiality to certain contractors and to save taxpayer money by obtaining the lowest price:

In Putnam County, competitive bids were not solicited for a network printer that cost $5,697, six laser printers that cost $5,210 in total, fencing that cost $9,890, upgrades at the Parks and Recreation Department that cost $5,900, carpeting that cost $27,000, and security cameras that cost $7,400. The county also neglected to take out an advertisement for a construction manager.

In Van Buren County, bids were not solicited for jail food and custodial purchases of $29,403. The county also failed to receive bids for a $4,976 purchase of police vehicle cameras.

The Beacon report also claims a record-breaking $1.9 million was wasted on state-owned golf courses throughout the state, including two in the UC. The courses at Fall Creek Falls and Cumberland Mountain lost $330,765 and $368,772, respectively.

The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, meanwhile, was slammed with the “Pork of the Year” award – largely for paying as much as $181 million in erroneous benefits to jailed felons.

Overall, the Beacon Report says it exposed $609 million in state and local government waste, which is the highest amount uncovered in a single year since Beacon started publishing the report in 2006.

Beacon, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, says it’s “dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.”

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