Originally created 10/11/00

Finance follies



Augusta-Richmond County's Finance Department is a mess, and a recent audit of it should concern taxpayers who are funding the mess.

A certified public accounting firm found conditions it considered "reportable" under industry standards. The firm said the department has "significant deficiencies in the design or operation of the internal control structure ..." Also, "significant errors in the Consolidated Government's 1999 financial records. The department was fully staffed at December 31, 1999, and, in our opinion, had adequate time to correct and close the financial records before we began our audit in April 2000."

The auditors said that the information the finance department provided could not give decisionmakers information upon which they could make good decisions.

Consider these horrifying examples:

General fund revenues were overstated by $1 million.

Property taxes were underestimated by $26 million.

General fund revenues were overstated by $14.6 million.

Golf course capital expenses of $965,000 were incorrectly recorded.

Bush Field revenues of $7 million, covering three quarters of 1999, weren't recorded.

Bush Field's use of $2.1 million in inventory wasn't recorded.

Funds transferred between accounts were never balanced.

Some $215,000 in cash was incorrectly recorded.

Pension checks dated in January 2000 were cashed in 1999.

Housing and Neighborhood Development Fund and the Urban Services Fund weren't balanced during the year, resulting in a $32,000 error. The HUD fund was incorrect by $239,000.

Collections of interfund balances from 1998 weren't recorded until 1999.

Expenses were recorded in the wrong accounts.

The mis-postings, missing information and mistakes go on and on. There's not room to list them all.

While the special grand jury investigates the former fire chief for financial inconsistencies, who's watching City Hall operations?

City Finance Director Lon Morrey says it's because he was understaffed, but that's not what the auditor says. The audit report says the department was fully staffed at the end of 1999. Further, the audit group had to beg, plead and finally report to the Augusta Commission that the Finance Department was not giving over documents in a way that would allow auditors to complete their work.

Morrey says, "... I think some of these things have been painted in such a way to make the Finance Department look as bad as possible."

We're not sure that the director has a leg to stand on. If he really believes his office's performance is OK, maybe the grand jury ought to turn its attention there, where millions of dollars are at stake.

Morrey says he's taken aback at how the whole thing has been handled. He's not the only one taken aback.

Commissioner Steve Shepard says, "We can play the blame game ... We can run this government or we can tear it apart." No, Mr. Shepard, apparently commissioners can't run the government. If they could, why is Finance in such a mess?