Rogers stands by statement on revising county budget

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers disputes a report that he gave incorrect information to the county quorum court at its July 15 meeting.

Rogers told the JPs they couldn't revise the seven-month budget they had set for jail operations approved earlier in the year.

A story in last week's paper quoted David Morris, an administrative assistant with the Association of Arkansas Counties, as saying the budget could be amended.

Morris was brought into the fray by JP Eva Reeve, who consulted him and contacted media personnel with the information.

After the story was printed, Morris called to say, "It's not a simple issue. The situation is a lot more complicated and requires knowing a lot more about the issue. I've talked with the county judge and with Tony (Rogers) and we think alike. We are all in sync on what can and can't be done."

Morris did say that there is a state statute that allows the governing body to reduce salaries, "when funds are not available, you can reduce salaries proportionately," he said.

Statute 21-5-104 reads "If, in any year, the funds available for the payment of salaries of elected county officers and employees of a county are inadequate to pay all such salaries and it becomes necessary to reduce salaries, the salary of each elected constitutional officer and each employee in the county shall be reduced in the same percentage."

"There is no emergency," responded Rogers, "and that would be across the board, all departments."

Rogers went on to cite Arkansas attorney general opinion 1989-206 that he interprets to say that a quorum court cannot administer an appropriation once it's made.

The question referenced is "Once an elected official is given a budget to work with, can the Quorum Court begin transferring monies around in that budget without the elected official requesting the transfer or even approving of it?

In response, the opinion states "Your question presents potential issues involving the 'separation of powers' doctrine. Similar to the state government, county government in Arkansas is comprised of separate branches in order to provide a system of checks and balances. In the classic textbook division of the powers of legislative and executive branches of government, the legislature makes the laws and appropriates public revenue, while the executive administers the laws and expends the appropriations."

The opinion also states "It seems clear that the Quorum court cannot administer an appropriation ordinance once made. Attempted legislative control over expenditures raises the specter of a separation of powers of infringement.

"Whether or not the Quorum Court has unlawfully interfered with executives powers in any given instance is, however, a question of fact, to be resolved by the judiciary based upon the particular circumstances in each case.

"We therefore cannot conclusively state in this instance that the action of the Quorum Court in 'transferring money around in (an elected official's) budget' violates executive prerogatives.

"It must be recognized that although the Quorum Court may not involve itself in the day-to-day administrative responsibilities of each elected county official, it does have the power to make reasonable regulations as to the performance of the duties of a constitutional officer. And it has statutory authority to 'adopt, amend, or repeal an appropriation ordinance which incorporates by reference the provisions of any county budget or portion of a county budget.... without setting forth the provisions of the adopted budget in full."

Rogers said it is frowned upon when governing bodies change line-by-line items because it crosses the line on separation of powers, from legislative to executive.

"Once appropriated, it's up to the elected officials (department heads) to adjust," he explained.

"Once they (the quorum court) set salaries and appropriate the money to fund those salaries, they can't change it for this year," he said. "I stand by that."

An attorney general's opinion on the specifics of this situation can be requested, said Matt DeCample, press secretary for Office of Attorney General Mike Beebe, but must be requested by a person or agency of authority.

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