WARNER ROBINS -- Pushing for more transparency and oversight, Warner Robins council members are insisting the city provide a regular financial report to them and residents.
Council members have mentioned the idea of regular financial reports for months but ramped up suggestions during Monday’s precouncil meeting, mainly in response to the financial report provided in answer to Councilman Daron Lee’s request last month. It was an unaudited year-end report for fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30.
“I was quite concerned after that report was given,” Lee said Friday. “We’re working in 2013, and we’re getting the 2012 numbers?”
Council members launched into a calm grilling of Bill Harte, city finance director. During the next 20 minutes, they patiently but forcefully explained the need for the most up-to-date expenses and revenue information.
“We walk in ... we don’t know sometimes,” Councilman Mike Davis told Harte. “Basically, just having a baseline of where we are” is what council needs to know before making financial decisions.
Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins and Councilman Mike Daley also spoke in favor of the reports.
The only regular financial information council currently receives is on purchase orders they approve every meeting, Lee said. For each purchase, it lists the remaining balance of the particular account and any account transfers needed for the purchase.
Other than that, council reviews expenses irregularly and topically.
Now, they’re pushing Harte to generate a regular report for the city’s entire budget, which includes expenses and revenue for every department and enterprise fund.
“That’s just common business sense to me,” Lee said. “I need to know what I have before I spend it.”
Lee said he and the rest of council aren’t demanding they have regular reports because they suspect nefarious money management.
“I want the citizens to be aware and informed of what we are doing,” Lee said.
Lee said he requested a regular financial report after noticing the practice on other boards he sits, including the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
“If they can do it, I know we can do it,” Lee said. “We, the council, should get a report on a monthly basis. We need a presentation done for the citizens, at least, on a quarterly basis.”
Harte told council he gave them the fiscal 2012 report to give them an idea of where the city began fiscal 2013.
He assured them he could have July and possibly August available at the Sept. 17 meeting; however, Lee said Friday that Harte had an unexpected family emergency and may not have the report ready.
Harte told council it’s impossible to generate a report with exact figures because some expenses and revenue reports aren’t available. It takes about two weeks to close out the prior month, he said.
“It may not be the exact figure, but it ought to be mighty close,” Lee said Friday. “By the second week of every month, we should have the numbers from that prior month.”
During the report discussion, Harte also told council members he needs to know what information is important to them, so he can figure out whether it’s possible with the city’s software. Lee suggested Harte create spreadsheets.
Mayor Chuck Shaheen told council the fiscal 2012 information Harte provided was insightful.
“I think this is what you’ll need to know,” he told council. “If you’re going to start getting into each department, I don’t know what you’re looking for.”
“It’s important for us to know where we’re spending the people’s money,” Davis responded.
Lee said Shaheen has been responsive to his request for regular reports.
Shaheen responded to a request for further comment with a statement e-mailed to The Telegraph by city spokeswoman Ruby Hamb-Holmes. In it, Shaheen states the reports are a good idea, and Harte is “creating a program that will display updated financial information to the council on a quarterly basis.”
“We believe that each department head has successfully monitored their budget as expected,” the statement reads.
Lee said he understands the new process may take some adjustment for city, but it’s a necessary tool for council.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.