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Budget adopted after legal fund dispute

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Montgomery County’s 2020 budget was adopted Tuesday after nearly 3 1/2 hours of finalizing the numbers and a dispute over routine funding for legal representation.

The county council approved a $40,000 request to defend the county against lawsuits, but not before the funds got tangled up in a recent back-and-forth with the commissioners over a budget issue.

The dispute centers on funds that were moved without approval, an issue the commissioners said was being addressed. The budget committee recommended eliminating the special legal services fund, which would have required the county attorney to approach the council before responding to a suit. Attorneys have strict deadlines to file legal responses.

“We have to ask if the attorney can do legal work on the commissioners’ behalf before he does it?” county administrator Mark Casteel said. 

“Not this year,” councilman Gary Booth replied. “Next year, right now, yeah, for any special legal [issues]. There’s no special legal needs for next year, is there?”

County attorney Dan Taylor said it isn’t known how many cases are coming until a lawsuit is filed. There are 11 lawsuits currently pending against the county.

“You can’t just stop defending them,” Taylor said.

The commissioners recently asked for additional money this year. 

“We’re not saying … you’re not going to be able to pay the bill,” Booth said in an exchange with commission president Jim Fulwider. “We’re just saying council needs to be a part of what’s going on.”

“You have been a part of what’s going on,” Fulwider replied.

Fulwider said he has been working on a plan to correct the issues surrounding the moved funds, but seeking to zero out the special legal services fund “is micromanaging at its best.”

“Legal services is something in this county that’s going to have to be [handled], and you know that,” Fulwider told Booth.

In other budget matters, funding was approved for body cameras for the sheriff’s office and an additional dispatcher.

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