City looking to reformat budget reports

Published 12:03 am Monday, February 10, 2014

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials are looking to get a clearer picture of the city’s finances through more concise and understandable monthly budget reports.

The current reports, which are prepared by the city clerk’s office, are typically more than 100 pages long and list the city’s various funds and their revenues, expenditures and budgeted amounts.

The sheer length of the reports and the way the figures are listed are confusing, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said.

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Smith, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard and Mayor Butch Brown met with City Clerk Donnie Holloway and the city’s newly hired accounting staff, senior staff accountant Angela Penfield and her assistant Jackie Wild last week.

The officials discussed reformatting the monthly budget reports presented to the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

Smith brought a copy of monthly reports for the City of Kansas City, which includes a summary sheet for the general fund, graphs tracking tax collections, charts showing revenues and expenditures from various funds as they compare to the previous year and other information.

Smith said the report is an example of some of the information she would like included in the aldermen’s monthly reports. Smith said she would also like the accounting staff to gives a report at one of the board’s twice-monthly meetings.

“It’s just so we have an idea of where we are year-round, and we’re not finding out things so long after they took place,” she said. “We need a clearer picture, so we can figure out if each department is on target every month.”

Holloway said Kansas City likely has a much larger accounting staff than Natchez, but said he and his staff are looking at how they can model Natchez’s monthly reports after the Kansas City report.

“It’s been hectic (lately),” Holloway said. “We’ve been trying to train our new people (Penfield and Wild), neither (of which) has municipal (accounting) experience.”

Dillard said his concerns go beyond just getting monthly reports that are simpler and easier to understand.

More important, Dillard said, is that the reports are accurate. Dillard has repeatedly questioned the monthly budget reports at the board’s meetings.

He has pointed to misnomers and mistakes in information and most recently that the overall approved budget amount for the fiscal year — approximately $37.8 million — has changed in budget reports.

Dillard said he believes amending the budget to change the overall amount requires approval by the board of aldermen.

Holloway said his office is looking into questions Dillard has, including why the budget amount has changed.

“We’ve got an idea (of what caused it), but I’m not going to say anything until we pinpoint it,” he said.

Dillard said he believes easier-to-understand monthly reports would be beneficial, but the information still needs to be correct.