The difference between two county commission candidates is about $5.3 million.

That’s the gap between what west-side commission candidate Norman “Pete” Tucker, a Democrat, and east-side incumbent Doug Williams, a Republican, claim is set aside for the county’s emergency reserve fund.

The emergency reserve is a cash amount set aside by the commission in case of unexpected expenses. Without it, the county would be forced to borrow money if it experienced an uninsured disaster.

While Tucker is not running against Williams, he attacked statements made by the east-side commissioner during a political forum Thursday, claiming Williams had lied about how much was in the reserve fund.

“It doesn’t factor into the race, but it factors into the truth,” Tucker said after the forum. “He made a false statement, and I felt the need to correct that statement.”

Early on in the program, Williams estimated the county’s emergency reserve was about $8.5 million. He said he supports a reserve, but not at the cost of providing services to the tax payers.

“I believe in a strong reserve, and we have set that aside,” Williams said, “but unlike my opponent and as a taxpayer, I feel I should get the services I pay for. We don’t need $100 million dollars in the bank.”

During closing statements, though, Tucker rebutted, claiming there was just $3.2 million in reserve, about $1 million less than there was two years ago when he left office. He has served two non-concurrent terms as chairman.

According to Tucker, William’s estimate included the county’s entire general fund, which he said is different from a reserve, because operating expenses are taken from it.

“These things need to be corrected,” he said. “Tell the truth. Either you don’t know what a savings account is, or you’re trying to mislead people.”

After the program, Williams said he did not take the statement personally, but he still stood by his estimate, indicating generally accepted accounting principals — known as GAAP by accountants — define all money left in any of the county’s bank accounts as reserve money.

That includes the general fund, according to Williams.

He said GAAP standards are used by the State Auditors Office and the State Department of Insurance.

“His business philosophy is maybe a little different than mine, but he has a right to his opinion,” he said.

According to Tucker though, only the ’93 sales tax fund, which was established while he was in office, can be counted as a reserve, because the county pays bills from general fund.

“The ’93 sales tax is static,” he said. “In the four years I was there, we never once took money from it. It’s supposed to be on reserve.”

According to the county’s cash ledger, a public record, the ’93 fund did contain $3.2 million at the close of the past fiscal period. The ledger also showed the general fund contained $5.2 million. Combined, they equal $8.4 million Williams estimated.

In 2004, when Tucker left office, the ’93 fund contained about $4.1 million, but sometime between 2004 and 2006, approximately $872,921 was removed, dropping it to its current state. That money was transferred to the general fund.

While the transfer leaves the ’93 fund down from what it was under Tucker’s administration, the general fund has increased by $2.5 million from that time, according to the latest ledger.

Tucker says the general fund is an inaccurate picture of the cash on hand, because it fluctuates greatly from month to month.

Williams disagrees and says, regardless, the county owns a number of properties that could be liquidated in the event additional emergency funds are needed.

Of the general fund, approximately $3.1 is invested in CDs. About $3 million of the ’93 fund is also invested in CDs.

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‰ All four commission candidates fielded a number of questions during Thursday’s political forum hosted by the Cullman-Area Chamber of Commerce in preparation for the Nov. 7 general election.

That election pits former commissioner Faye Pruett Whisenant, a Democrat, against Williams for the county’s east side and Tucker against West Point Mayor Wayne Willingham, a Republican, for the west side.

The forum was moderated by the chairman of the chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Seth Thompson:

What do you expect to accomplish if elected?

‰ Whisenant said she wants bring back harmony between the commission, the county’s elected officials, the department heads and the employees. She also called for improvements to the county water system and more grant money.

‰ Williams said he wants to finish a number of projects he started during his first years in office, including adoption of a pay system for county employees. He said that would improve their salary and benefits and retain better employees.

He said his first goal is to increase revenue to Cullman County by attracting new industry, building new parks and attaining additional grant money.

‰ Willingham said voters will notice improvements in road maintenance if they elect him, due to his strong background in construction.

He also called for waterline upgrades, indicating much of the county suffers insufficient water supply due to undersized lines.

‰ Tucker said he wanted peace and harmony in the courthouse and called for more efficient handling of money.

He criticized the current commission for not instituting a new paygrade and classification since the old one was removed 18 month ago, calling it “cruel” and “unacceptable” to make the employees work without one.

“That must be addressed,” he said.

What is a commissioner’s responsibility?

All the candidates indicated maintenance in building of roads and bridges was their primary job.

‰ Tucker additionally said all the commissioners have an equal vote. He listed his job qualifications, which included degrees in chemistry and accounting and two previous terms as commission chairman.

‰ Whisenant said raising money through state and federal grants is paramount to maintaining the roads and other county departments.

‰ Williams said a commissioner’s first job is to maintain and build roads, but the other county departments are just as important.

‰ Willingham said good roads are important to drawing new businesses into the county.

What opportunities do you see for more cooperation between the city and county government?

‰ Williams said the county and the city already cooperate on a number of projects, including grant work and industrial development work.

He called for cooperation between the city and the county in providing future water supplies.

‰ Willingham called for cooperation not only between governments, but between people.

“If you’ll check my record as mayor of the city of West Point, you’ll see I worked real hard to build harmony amongst everybody community wide, and that’s what it takes to build a community up,” he said.

‰ Tucker said he had an unprecedented relationship with the city of Cullman over his previous terms, and that the water board was formed when he was in office.

He also said upgrading all the county’s water lines would cost about $40 million.

“We’ve got to dig deeper in what it’s going to take,” he said.

‰ Whisenant said the key to cooperation between the county and its municipalities is communication.

“You’ve got to sit down and talk your problems and situations over with each other,” she said. “You’ve got to have an understanding.”

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