Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Council Seeks Spending Details

Council members grew testy with City Administrator Carlton McGee Tuesday after he insisted there is no way to track monthly city expenses.

The discussion arose over a resolution to make “emergency temporary appropriations” to run the city in November. Despite the dire tone, it is routine to make such appropriations each month until a budget is passed. The city’s fiscal year began July 1 and the council will hold its first budget deliberations tonight.

McGee first explained that by law, the city can appropriate one-twelfth of last year’s budget amount each month while working on the new budget. The administration has projected an 8.2 percent increase for fiscal year 2007.

Without a budget in place, Councilwoman Linda Carter said, “We have to be mindful and careful of what we’re doing.”

McGee said the current proposed budget “does show some growth, mainly around contractual things.” But he said currently, “We are behind what we should be spending.”

Council President Rayland Van Blake asked for more “transparency” on current expenses and Councilman Cory Storch said,”I know we have talked about getting a monthly report” on actual expenses.

McGee agreed, but said the administration needs to do more work on a software system to make such reports.

“Right now, we don’t have the manpower to give an accurate report,” he said, citing a lag time of two or three weeks.

McGee said the administration wants to offer more transparency, but added, “We don’t even have one person who works on the budget fulltime.”

“So we’re flying blind,” Storch said.

“We’re always flying blind,” McGee said. “We need resources.”

After Councilman Don Davis questioned why department heads are not capable of reporting monthly expenses, Councilman Rashid Burney held up the resolution and said, “I have certification from Pete saying the funds are available.”

Burney referred to Chief Financial Officer Peter Sepelya, who signs off on fiscal matters. Burney said he could not say “yes” to the measure if the information was wrong.

“What you’re asking for is detail,” McGee said, but Burney persisted, asking how many months it would take.

“At some point the data has to be certified,” he said.

McGee said an audit usually takes place “a year later.”

“I’m not saying it’s right,” said McGee, who also served as head of Administration and Finance from March through September.

Carter offered a compromise.

“We can debate this for hours,” she said, suggesting that the chairman of the council’s finance committee could meet with Sepelya to discuss the issue.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs last month appointed Tyshammie Cooper as acting director of Administration and Finance. Cooper may serve in acting capacity for up to 90 days before the mayor must seek council advice and consent to the appointment. If approved, Cooper would then serve concurrently with the mayor until Dec. 31, 2009.

Tonight’s budget meeting is from 7 to 9 p.m. in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia


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