An audit of Macon’s Municipal Court found only minor problems, city Internal Auditor Stephanie Jones told the City Council’s Appropriations Committee on Monday.
“Everything was perfect” in actual money-handling, with the only real deficiencies coming in monitoring workflow, she said. That caused a glitch with about 2,000 traffic tickets during the past six years that violators paid before police turned in the original citations. Because of that data entry problem, the city probably owes the state a few thousand dollars in surcharges, but a court contractor also may owe the city a smaller amount because of the same basic problem, Jones said.
One major finding was that the court is understaffed. Jones concluded that Municipal Court needs two more employees to handle its workload. That’s the same number of workers laid off from the court in a citywide downsizing two years ago.
The audit took months, much longer than expected, as Jones checked and rechecked a huge volume of records, she said. Some of those records no one had ever asked to see before, Jones said.
Court Administrator John Pattan praised her work, saying it was valuable in turning up some issues the court didn’t know it had. Some minor administrative changes are already under way, but because of the huge volume of tickets the court handles, it may be five months before all citations can be sifted to make sure those few dollars are straightened out.
In a detailed, footnoted response to Jones’ audit, Pattan noted that the court took in nearly $19 million in the period that was audited.
Much of the discussion centered on whether much of clerks’ data entry can be automated, and if contractor ACS should be doing that under the terms of its deal with the city. Pattan said that some ideas for automation, involving sharing information between law enforcement agencies, are illegal. Jones said ACS told her that the city had never requested some other proposals for work under its contract.
Second Street contract
A resolution to hire CHA Consulting for $493,000 to oversee planning of a reworked Second Street, which Mayor Robert Reichert said last week probably wouldn’t come up before January, appeared at the Appropriations Committee but was promptly put off at Reichert’s request.
He asked to hold off until the administration works out an overall plan for prioritizing work on projects to be funded by the recently-approved special purpose local option sales tax and has some detailed options for spending the expected $190 million to be generated by the tax.
The first phase of the Second Street project is slated to get $8 million in SPLOST funds. Reichert said priorities and financial plans should be ready soon, but he asked the council to wait on individual pieces until the whole plan is ready for discussion.
“I’m confident after talking to a number of members of council that there’s going to be spirited debate,” he said.
Hotel tax distribution
Measures to equally redistribute the fraction of the local hotel room tax that went to the now-closed Georgia Music Hall of Fame and to establish a cultural arts authority to consider any future redistribution drew a pass from the committee Monday.
One ordinance and one resolution were tabled so the ordinance could be rewritten as a resolution, with an eye toward sending both to the local legislative delegation for a decision.
Councilman Mike Cranford, sponsor of one of the items, suggested that the music hall money should go instead to the Georgia Children’s Museum, which is in the same downtown district as the former music hall, the unfinished Tubman African American Museum, and the two current hotel tax recipients: the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Douglass Theatre.
Councilwoman Lauren Benedict wondered if the Macon Arts Alliance could serve as the proposed authority. Cranford replied that he believed the tax allocation was intended to serve the downtown museum district, not spread more broadly among other arts groups.
Councilman Frank Tompkins suggested that perhaps a special arm of the arts alliance could handle the specific task.
In the end, though, the decision was put off largely because of concerns raised by Councilwoman Elaine Lucas as to whether the city had the authority to reapportion the money without General Assembly approval.
“I support the split. I’m just wondering if we can do it ourselves,” she said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.