Olentangy Valley News

Staff purchasing limit splits township leaders

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Liberty Township trustees butted heads last week over the limits of operational spending by township staff.

Currently, township staff members have authorization to make purchases up to $2,500 when deemed necessary without prior approval by the board of trustees.

Officials said the rule, which was renewed by a 2-1 vote at the Jan. 7 board meeting, allows staff members to make relatively small purchases and rent equipment to run the township on a weekly basis.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan cast the sole vote against renewing the measure. She said the limit for unapproved purchases should be lowered to $500, with an exception for emergencies.

"It seems like the majority of (purchases) I see are after the fact, and I think it's because $2,500 is a pretty high number," Leneghan said. "For everyday expenses, I would like to see that reduced."

But Township Administrator Dave Anderson said the limit is reasonable in the context of the township's overall budget.

"That's relatively low when you're running a $9 million organization," Anderson said.

Fiscal officer Mark Gerber added: "In the five years I've been here, I've never seen it abused. It's statutorily the correct limit."

Leneghan said some spending, such as expenses incurred for legal counsel, should be approved in advance.

"At times, they pick up the phone and call the lawyer to the tune of $145,000 (during calendar year 2012) and I would not have approved of that," she said.

Board chairman Curt Sybert said that level of spending -- about 1.5 percent of the overall budget -- is reasonable and necessary for a municipality as large as Liberty Township.

He added lowering the limit would hurt the staff's ability to operate efficiently.

"We could actually cost them money by having them stop projects and wait to get something approved," he said.

Also at the Jan. 7 meeting, Sybert was reappointed chairman and Mary Carducci reappointed vice chairwoman of the board of trustees.

Leneghan voted against both appointments. After the meeting, she pointed out that boards often rotate the position among members, though it isn't a rule.

The chairman of the board has no additional voting power over the other trustees but does control the flow of meet- ings.

Leneghan said she believes Sybert gives more time and leeway to residents addressing the board when he agrees with their opinions.

Sybert countered that Leneghan is a poor fit for the chairmanship because she doesn't work well with her fellow trustees.

Carducci said she nominated Sybert, the most senior trustee, to be chairman again because the township is facing a potentially rocky year depending upon the outcome of the February election, when residents will vote on an emergency levy for the local fire department.

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