Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-3 to overturn a budget veto by Mayor Jim Coppinger, reports the Times-Free Press.
That means the budget, which starts on July 1, will include $900,000 in discretionary spending for the nine commissioners. Coppinger had left the money out of his proposed budget, saying there was no revenue to support it. Commissioners voted to pull the nearly $1 million from the county’s savings to reinstate the fund. Coppinger vetoed that move Monday.
The commissioners will each get $100,000 this year to spend on special projects. Whatever they don’t use will roll over to next year.
Conservative groups and government watchdogs have criticized the discretionary spending program as veiled political pork.
Commissioner Randy Fairbanks on Wednesday defended his vote to reinstate the funds, saying the public wasn’t getting the whole story.
“It seemed like to everyone I talked to, when we explained the situation that’s going on with the discretionary funds, they totally had a different perception of it,” Fairbanks said.
For instance, he plans to use discretionary funds to help paint a senior center in Bakewell.
“If I tell those people the head of a think tank in Nashville doesn’t think it’s a good idea for me to spend money in Bakewell they don’t care about a think tank in Nashville,” he said.
Instead, media should ask people who get the money if the funds are helping the community, Fairbanks said.
“I’d like them to go to Daisy Elementary to ask the principal ‘What’s the benefit from the $100,000 discretionary funds?'” he said.
Fairbanks’ predecessor, before leaving office, used discretionary funds to build a road out of Daisy Elementary, reportedly to improve traffic safety there.
“That has never been done, and by my estimation would never be done without discretionary funds,” Fairbanks said.