City faces more than a dollar deficitPublished 12:05am Friday, June 20, 2014
Natchez taxpayers experienced a bit of whiplash last week when the city went from a $1.5 million deficit to a $2.5 million surplus in seven days.
Reports from an independent auditor show the city is not in as much financial trouble as was discussed in the June 10th aldermen meeting.
Even still, the mayor and aldermen face a bankrupt situation. The deficit they face is not one of dollars as much as it is of trust.
The week has left residents scratching their heads.
When the city’s financial outlook makes a $4 million dollar about-face in seven days, how are residents expected to believe what they hear from their elected leaders?
How long have decisions been made on behalf of taxpayers based on faulty data?
Has the city’s financial situation reached the point where the only trustworthy numbers are the ones presented by an independent auditor?
These are just a few questions residents must be asking themselves after a week filled with confusing data and facts.
To be fair to the current mayor and board, the trust account was sitting at empty years before the current administration. Many of the trust problems are not of their own making.
Most of the troubles stem from city clerk Donnie Holloway’s office, which has been in a state of disarray even before its longtime data processor died in 2012. The problems in Holloway’s office are well documented in city council minutes and in audits that cite the city for material weaknesses and significant deficiencies.
Problems in Holloway’s office worsened so much that the city was forced to hire two accountants to help closeout the books and reconcile accounts in 2013.
The city clerk continues to be a punching bag in regular board meetings, bearing the brunt of Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard and others demanding financial statements they can understand and use to make decisions.
At this point, it is hard to believe any of the numbers that come out of the council chambers, which may partly explain the current “cash flow” situation Mayor Brown says the city is in.
A review from the city’s auditor shows that while the city is not in a deficit, many of its funds are tied up in restricted accounts that cannot be used for interfund loans to cover operating costs while the city awaits additional sales and ad valorem taxes.
The restricted funds are for what the mayor calls “nagging problems that have been going on for years,” street repairs being one of them.
Apparently, aldermen placed restrictions on the funds for fear that they would be used for something other than paving roads. They may have been right.
The mayor says the restrictions have left the city strapped. Aldermen Dillard said he doesn’t want to see the funds used as a loan that will never be paid back.
It sounds like another trust issue facing the city. Either the aldermen don’t trust themselves to spend the money as intended, don’t trust the city clerk to keep track of the money or don’t trust the mayor to pay back the funds once he is done with them.
Either way, the trust issues facing the city are a much bigger problem than the dollar deficit leaders thought they were facing eleven days ago.
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at email@example.com.