MALONE - Franklin County legislators are debating between ensuring accountability for spending in its departments and making sure department leaders are prepared for an emergency.
County Manager Thomas Leitz introduced revisions to the county's purchasing policy at a meeting last week that sets out when a department head needs to solicit bids and get quotes before he or she buys something.
One change Leitz highlighted is a clarification of what constitutes an emergency, including making clear that failure to plan is not an emergency.
"The situation must arise as the result of an accident or other unforeseen occurrence or condition," the policy reads. "The circumstances of such an incident must affect public buildings, public property, or the life, health, safety, or property of the residents of Franklin County."
If an emergency arises, workers can make purchases; they just need to notify Leitz within 24 hours.
But legislators said they were concerned that might not give department heads enough leeway if they're faced with a real emergency. Department heads don't currently have their own credit cards they can use to charge purchases. Leitz holds the county credit card and can give access to department heads if he deems it necessary.
Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone, said there was one situation recently where emergency services workers didn't have the money to put gas in a vehicle to get to a flooding site. Leitz said in that case, they called him and he made a quick call to up their credit limit.
"If you're out of fuel and you need it, you buy it," Leitz said. "It's a no-brainer. That's an emergency."
Several legislators posited other hypothetical emergency situations where department heads might need money right away.
Legislator Sue Robideau, R-Brushton, asked if it would be possible to have a petty cash fund for the highway department for emergency use, but Leitz said that kind of thing is wide open to abuses.
Other legislators said they believed the purchasing policy has enough leeway to deal with emergency situations.
Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, said the board put those policies in place because there were abuses in the past and they were trying to guard against such abuses in the future. All the department heads used to have credit cards, but they were taken away, he said.
"We pay the county manager to work with the department heads," Burpoe said. "Why don't we just let him do that?"
Lashomb and several others said they think department heads should get credit cards with specific credit limits, and if there's a problem, they can be restricted again.
"If these guys have budgets (this big), and we trust them with it, we ought to be able to trust them with a couple of hundred dollars or more," Lashomb said.
Leitz said that he hopes to hold training sessions with county employees on the purchasing policy every year, even if it might get old for long-time employees.
"I think it's going to help cut down on problems over time," Leitz said.