Vidalia aldermen discuss audit, new hotel

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

VIDALIA — Independent auditors listed three findings in the City of Vidalia’s audit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, but city leaders said Tuesday the audit is a sign of progress made in the financial management of the city.

The audit, conducted by Silas Simmons in Natchez, shows Vidalia has reduced its number the number of findings from its 2011-2012 audit to 2012-2013 audit from 11 to three, which Mayor Hyram Copeland said is a sign of the hard work of City Hall staff.

City accountant Ashley Anderson reviewed the audit with the Vidalia Board of Aldermen at its Tuesday meeting. The 2012-2013 fiscal year ended June 30.

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The audit found the board of aldermen has been unable to “properly oversee the operations of the town due to the absence of timely and accurate financial reporting by management.”

The audit notes Vidalia has already hired a new town manager to help with the implementation of recommendations to correct that problem.

As of July 1, the beginning of the current fiscal year, the city reviews its actual financial figures versus its budgeted funds to ensure they stay on track, Anderson said.

Anderson said she has monthly conversations with department heads and presents quarterly financial reports to the board of aldermen to give a clear picture of the city’s finances.

The audit also found the city’s industrial fund expenditures exceeded its budget by 104 percent. The budgeted amount was $395,000, while the actual expenditures were approximately $807,000.

Copeland said the expenditures exceeded the budget because the city was granted capital outlay monies from the state that the city did not anticipate, so it was not budgeted.

Copeland said the finding was, in his opinion, a good one to have since the capital outlay money was a blessing to the city.

“Will that happen again? I hope so,” Copeland said. “I’ll take that finding every time if we have an issue like that.”

The audit also found the city’s hydro fund expenditures exceeded its budget amount by 156 percent. The budgeted amount was approximately $3.75 million, and the actual expenditures were approximately $9.18 million.

The audit states the city recognizes it did not account for amounts accrued but not due at the end of June and will ensure the budget matches expected expenditures going forward.

Because the river was low and royalties from the hydro plant were not paid, invoices from June were not paid out until July after a new fiscal year had started, Anderson said.

“It was a matter of timing … and cash versus accrual (accounting),” she said.

Copeland commended Anderson’s work, as well as other staff members on the audit.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and this is one of the best ones I have seen,” he said.

The audit was filed on time with the state by Dec. 31, Anderson said. She noted Vidalia has in the past needed extensions to complete the audit.

In other news from the meeting:

4Copeland announced Vidalia intends to lease three acres on the riverfront south of Promise Hospital to the Desai Hotel Group. The board will take up the matter at its Feb. 11 meeting.

Copeland said he could not name the franchise for the hotel that would be built, because it has not been finalized.

The Desai Hotel Group owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express, which opened in July on Canal Street in Natchez.