In-substance defeasance is an accounting term for removing debt from an entity’s balance sheet though the debt itself is not cancelled. The debt is considered paid from an accounting standpoint if a dedicated sinking fund is created with a financial intermediary that is sufficient to extinguish the original debt over time. In the case of the City of Bay St Louis, the proposed Utility Fund refunding bonds would In-substance defease the previous refunding bonds that In-substance defeased the original bond issue.
In layman’s terms this would mark the second time the original Water and Sewer capital improvement bonds have been refinanced. Having a bit of experience with the back end of this type of transaction, I can say first hand that it is complex and carries hefty legal and professional fees as the Bay City Council found out first hand at last night’s meeting.
Councilwoman Wendy McDonald will be hosting a town hall meeting for residents and business owners in Ward 2 next Thursday evening, May 22, 2014 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Bay St Louis City Council Chambers.
Topics for discussion may include parking, speeding, activities and events such as runs, festivals, Second Saturday etc., noise, harbor opening and other topics of interest to the residents and business owners in our Ward. Because there will be a 2 ½ hour workshop related to the city budget starting at 3 PM on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 with a council meeting to follow at 5:30 PM we will not get into the budget at this meeting but use this time to address other concerns such as those outlined above.
Mike Favre, Councilman at Large and Les Fillengame, Mayor are attending this meeting as well and are interested in your input and feedback as it relates to Ward 2. Please feel free to send in topics of interest ahead of time if possible so we can allow time to cover topics of interest and for participation from the residents and business owners.
Horrifying isn’t too strong of a term to describe what I witnessed back on May 6th during the City Council’s finance workshop. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain why I was horrified as the subject matter is somewhat technical in Mississippi Municipal Finance. From a big picture standpoint, financially the City of Bay St Louis is a rogue municipality, making loans without any statutory authority to do so while spending fantasy tax revenue, unrealistically budgeted and never received. Worst of all is the Mayor is in deep denial – either that or he gets his kicks from telling whopper after whopper about the state of the City’s finances. It does not serve the public interest.
To me, there were two moments that encapsulated the entire two hour workshop the first was when auditor Jennifer Bell was giving her presentation on the internal control and legal compliance findings.
To set up her finding on purchasing, rumors have been swirling since last August the City was financing its deficit using what is most commonly known as its trade payables, or in Mississippi Governmental parlance its claims docket. Whether a local government or a struggling business, when cash gets tight the first way operating cash flow is financed without a bank is to simply let bills ride until the money comes in to pay them. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a time honored way of buying time in the business world for cash starved entities public and private. Unfortunately Mayor Fillingame and City Clerk David Kolf have been telling whoppers about the City’s cash flow being A-OK for months so when the rubber met the road the Mayor essentially accused the auditor of fabricating her results. Dwayne Bremer’s story on the workshop made it sound like it some sort of difference of opinion. Here is the salient snippet:
Falgout said the draft audit states that the city is experiencing a cash-flow problem and that bills were being paid in order of priority, rather than order received.
Fillingame said that he challenged the assertion and pointed to the fact that the audit is not yet complete.
Yesterday’s Bay City Council finance workshop was horrifying on two levels in fact folks. I put the workshop out on Twitter yesterday via my smartphone while Dwayne and Jennifer took pages of copious notes old school style. The long and short of it is the City is broke and has been broke for several months. Now the Mayor is pitching a new plan to refinance the City’s debt just weeks after telling Dwayne that City finances were groovy. The plan hizzoner is pushing will plunge the City deeper into debt to paper over the accumulated deficit the City has been financing off the back of its trade vendors and claims docket.
Accounting, legal compliance and related financial concepts are arcane, sometimes mind numbingly so thus I get a charge when audit presentations are recounted by the print media. I’ll be back with a detailed post on this exact topic but first here are the takeaways from the other two media organizations in attendance on this issue of vital public interest:
No word in either story on whether the City Council authorized the Mayor to begin discussion with Butler Snow to begin the bond refinancing process as proposed by Mayor Fillingame. In fairness to the Echo, Dwayne was fighting deadline issues. The Sun Herald is not in the game.
I’ve never heard of a financial measure for trade receivables called “collection rate” but the term was evidently dropped a good bit at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting like it meant something from a financial standpoint. (The typical measures of receivable efficiency are properly called receivable turnover and my personal favorite, the DSO. I have guesstimated the City’s DSO at somewhere close to 30 days for purposes of this post.)
I mention all this because there has been some chatter about last Tuesday night’s Bay St Louis City Council meeting and delinquent utility bills was a topic of conversation. Let’s start with Dwayne Bremer’s account of it to set the mood:
Ron Thorpe, a member of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government, on Tuesday appeared before the city council and offered an aggressive presentation with props such as a large garbage bag filled with paper and 135 water bottles arranged on a table.
The garbage bag, he said, represented $400,000 in uncollected utility bills. The 135 water bottles represented how many utility customers are more than 60 days past due, he said.
Councilmen and the audience sat in stunned silence during the presentation. At one point, Thorpe held the garbage bag above his head, shook it, and then threw it toward the council podium.
I think Hancock Medical leads the way with over $34,000 in outstanding H2O. Due to the date the report was run in close proximity to a weekend due date for payment means there are a multitude of current accounts listed including myself, my best friend and brother in law. It still appears WLOX’s Hancock County Beat reporter Al Showers is having Flapper value problems among other local notables that are behind. Al does not live in wards 5 or 6.
And the question in the post title begs the next key question in “Is City is expending the revenues it will never receive?”. The answer to both questions appears to be yes if the City budget is more than a simple piece of paper with numbers on it. First up is an analysis of Revenue account 201, where Ad Valorm Tax Revenue from Real Property is coded. Here is the salient portion of the 2013-2014 City Budget:
We can see that in 2012-2013 the City Budget called for total revenues for this line item, the largest of all the Ad Valorem Tax Revenue sources, of $1,680,000 yet as of September 12, 2013 only $1,284,724 had been collected. That amount ($1,284,724) should be very close to the final number aka actual for the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year as very little Real Property Ad Valorem tax is paid at that time of the year since the property taxes were due in January. Therefore using that number for 2012-2013 means that line item was short $395,276 in Real Property Tax Ad Valorem Revenues, which represents in excess of 10% of total budgeted revenues. Following is a chart which shows the 3 year trend for this revenue line item:
RFP was all over this fact in comments linking a 2011 WLOX story on the problem: