And if you narrowly define the term “dishonesty” to cover criminal activity such as the conversion of municipal assets, embezzlement of funds and the like I completely agree with Mayor Fillingame because Slabbed has found no evidence of such wrongdoing and believe me when I say if I thought there was some hankey-pankey going on Slabbed would be on it.
That said there are two active investigations underway at City Hall including one by the gang at the United States Department of Justice. When asked by Councilman Favre last night about the active investigations involving misspending of Drug Forfeiture funds City Attorney Donald Rafferty indicated that he thought the Administration would be vindicated and that brings me to another word in “misspending” “misspend” “misspent”, terms I have used to describe the problems in the City’s financial management. The Mayor made it clear in his remarks he thought the term was too strong. I took the liberty of looking it up for everyone during last night’s meeting posting same to Slabbed’s twitter timeline:
Mayor takes issue with use of term “misspent” as appearing on Slabbed. I think it nails it. pic.twitter.com/VYpMaYCUR2
— Slabbed New Media (@SlabbedNewMedia) September 9, 2015
Meantime Wes Muller over at the Sun Herald wrote a pretty good account of last night’s meeting correctly framing the root problem of audit recommendations contained in bad audit report after bad report being roundly ignored by the Administration.
Finally being as this is Bay St Louis we had to have an Alice in Wonderland type moment and that came when Councilman Seal directed local Alliance for Good Government President Lana Noonan to take down some numbers derived from the FY 2000 and FY 2014 audit reports pointing out that both the City’s General Fund Revenues and Water and Sewer Fund revenues were down compared to FY 2000. It was a great point, made in anticipation of another tax increase for this year by the Councilman but I wondered if he understood the implications of what he pointed out.
You see folks I did not live in the Bay back in Y2K but I know plenty of people that did. The local casino was doing well and the City, then under Mayor Eddie Favre enjoyed low overall property tax and water rates. The budget was also balanced albeit “cut close”. My question would be during the year 2000 fiscal year was the City spending money providing free bus service to a small area of town? How about free dumpster service to certain businesses? The answer to both questions is no. And the City’s trade vendors also did not have to wait several months to get paid and critical insurance coverages did not lapse for nonpayment of premium. To be sure the year 2000 was not all rainbows and unicorns for the City because it never is but my point is the basic financial functions of the City actually functioned and tax money was not wasted in direct subsidies to supposedly private, for profit businesses.
There is also a story behind those numbers that is bigger than Hurricane Katrina. For instance the 2014 audit contains a finding regarding very poor internal controls over the collection of Court fines and fees and Auditor Bell in fact pointed out the noticeable decline in Fines and Forfeitures general fund revenue over the past three years. That decline in revenues is completely “man-made” and the problem can be corrected without raising taxes a nickle if the City wanted to correct those problems, which was also reported in the 2013 audit.
What about the decline in Water and Sewer Revenue? Again the 2014 draft audit contains findings about the City not following its own ordinances regarding termination of service for nonpayment. You give people a free ride on their water and sewer bills and it is inevitable revenues will decline. Is the solution to stick the cost of the unpaid water bills on the paying customers or is it found in the City enforcing its own rules by making the deadbeats pay up or face a cut off of water service?
I guess that is the big point folks because without breaking a sweat I highlighted 2 of 14 major audit findings that directly impact the top line. As Councilman Reed pointed out last night the overwhelming majority of the audit findings either impacted the top or bottom lines (via unnecessary increases in expenses).
I guess my question for the City Council is whether or not the public should sit back and just accept that a portion of their property tax and water bills are destined to be squandered with their taxes going up year after year to pay for the waste or will the City Council require some accountability for these well documented problems?
Finally no one can say for sure at this point if the total answer lies in doing the nuts and bolts things to run the City right or if a tax increase is required no matter what. The problem is that to the extent the City’s financial position as of September 10, 2015 is unclear I don’t know on what basis anyone on the City Council can use to make an informed decision. Such is the price of running a year behind on closing the books. The people here deserve way better, even the lady that blamed the audit firm for the City’s financial problems last night during the public comment segment.
In other business, the City awarded the Bond Counsel contract to Butler Snow, who shaved their fee to $19,500 including their expenses for the coming capital improvement bond issue