Writing it down is great first step

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pencil? Check. Paper? Check. Willingness to fix an accounting issue? Double check.

On Tuesday, Natchez Aldermen took a tiny, but important step toward resolving a long-standing problem with a lack of accountability in city finances.

Aldermen unanimously voted to require the city clerk’s office to log inter-fund transfers and loans.

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Obviously that seems like something that should have been happening all along, but for whatever reason it hasn’t been.

The result was seen on the faces of aldermen last month when they suddenly realized that the city needed to borrow $500,000 just to get its bills paid.

The practice of one department requesting inter-fund loans and transfers has gotten out of hand. What has happened of late is that the city gives out more money to specific departments than was budgeted. So mid-budget year, the city finds itself cash strapped.

The solution has been to take out a tax anticipation loan, or borrowing against yet-to-be collected taxes.

What follows is that city winds up operating on the municipal equivalent of a payday loan.

That’s a ridiculous place for a city the size of Natchez to be.

And we’re glad aldermen are continuing to poke at this and get the financial accounting corrected.

The forced use of a pencil and paper to keep track of such loans is the first step in understanding where all the money is going.

The next step is creating a realistic budget that allows the city to live within its means and operate without having to constantly run to the bank seeking help.