City signs off on audit six months late

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, January 30, 2018


NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen signed off on the city’s fiscal year 2016 audit six months late, though findings indicate a positive trend going forward.

CPA Deanne Tanksley, whose firm The Gillon Group PLLC handled the audit, said the auditors this year had an unmodified opinion, meaning that the city’s financial statements were materially correct due to efforts by the city clerk’s office.

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“We have not been able to say that for the last several years,” Tanksley said. “The turnover in the clerk’s office, as we all know, has created issues probably since 2012.”

Tanksley said the clerk’s office still has plenty of work ahead to reverse past mistakes and get the department running optimally, but she does not expect many of the problems from previous years to continue.

One of the primary issues into which officials have invested great effort is the reconciliation of bank statements.

“One of the biggest things that I found — I know it’s not a problem now, but it was a problem then — errors were noted on the reconciliations that were never corrected in the books,” she said. “It’s one thing if we just made a mistake and we put it in the books. What bothered me were the ones that were actual transactions that went through the bank.”

When asked by Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith if the clerk’s office handles the reconciliations now, City Clerk Megan Edmonds said the department is now handling errors in reconciliations when they are discovered.

“If they’re smaller errors, (clerk’s office employees) they are going ahead and fixing them. If it’s something larger, they bring them to me and at that point, it’s fixed,” Edmonds said.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving asked if the clerk’s office had reconciled all bank statements, to which Edmonds answered that all but two accounts were current. One of those two accounts is the general fund, which covers most of the city’s operations.

After Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier prompted a discussion about the number of bank accounts within the city’s financial operations, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard questioned what amount is desirable for the city.

One city goal has been to reduce the number of accounts for practicality’s sake. Edmonds said she has gotten that figure down to less than 60, whereas not long ago nearly 80 accounts comprised the ledger.

Tanksley gave her opinion that municipalities are often better off with many accounts with an objective of keeping separate funds for separate projects than having too few accounts, which could make for difficulty in accounting.

“I have not seen a government very effectively work with pooled accounts … that’s just my personal experience,” she said.

As for the near future, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city had begun the process of taking on an accountant to ensure the department stays on top of everything.

Officials also discussed the city’s financial software, Springbrook, which Grennell and Edmonds said offers top-of-the-line accounting capability that the city has yet to master.

Grennell said Edmonds would receive special training for the software over the summer with the hope that the city will begin to realize the full potential of the software and bring accounting in good standing for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve got to use it for what it’s intended to do, because it can do a whole lot of great things for the city,” Grennell said.

Looking ahead to this year’s audit, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked how soon the city would need to have auditors begin the process to meet the federal deadline of June 30, which the city has not done for several years.

Tanksley said that process should begin in March, with an accountant firm in the office nearly full-time by mid-April.

Based off the clerk’s office’s current standing, Tanksley said she saw no reason why the city could not achieve that objective.

The board voted unanimously to execute representation letters subject to City Attorney Bob Latham’s review, effectively giving the final approval of the audit.