Two Macon-Bibb County commissioners want an in-depth look into the county finances.
And that push for a forensic audit led to Mayor Robert Reichert and one of the commissioners trading verbal jabs at each other.
Commissioners Elaine Lucas and Joe Allen said Thursday they want an outside firm to do a forensic audit of the county's finances, a lengthy and likely costly process that can determine how money is spent and if there is any fraud that's led to the deficit.
Allen and Lucas said the county's budget woes have lasted too long for there not to be a forensic audit. Not just for Macon-Bibb government but other local government entities such as well.
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For four consecutive years the county has needed to dip into reserves to cover any shortfalls, causing the reserve balance to drop from more than $33 million to about $4 million. And county commissioners are combing through the proposed fiscal 2019 budget to see if they can prevent a proposed property tax increase.
With millage rate and other fee increases in recent years, Macon residents deserve to know how the county is spending its money, Lucas said.
If commissioners don't sign off on a forensic audit, Allen and Lucas said they will ask the district attorney to convene a grand jury.
"The grand jury would need to investigate to find out why this government is near bankruptcy," Allen read from a statement. "We owe this to all Macon-Bibb County voters as consolidation was sold on the idea of cost saving and better efficiency."
Reichert, however, said county officials are playing a role in the budget process and will continue to do so. There is no need for a forensic audit when an annual audit is already performed, and commissioners can review any budgetary item they would like, he said.
Reichert said Allen and Lucas appear to be doing a "political stunt" by calling for a forensic audit when previous year's financial audits have not shown any wrongdoing or major issues.
In January, an auditor said the county's budget team needed to get a better "pulse" on revenue projects but did not find that any funds were being misused in the fiscal 2017 budget. Macon-Bibb paid $115,000 for that audit to be completed.
"To suggest criminal wrongdoing, I say we're wasting our time to try to put out a (request for proposals), and I say we go straight to the district attorney to dispel any notion or give any legs that there may be any criminal wrongdoing," Reichert said following Allen and Lucas' news conference.
Allen said the mayor is living in a fantasy world about the county's budget problems and pointed out Reichert served on the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority board when $2 million was allegedly spent on projects that weren't completed or never performed.
It wasn't until the authority's executive director was federally indicted and a forensic audit was done that authority members uncovered it, Allen said.
"We've got a right to know how every dime is spent," he said.
Reichert's proposed $164 million general fund budget includes the 3.7 mill increase, which if approved, would mean the millage rate would have risen by 6.7 mills over a two-year period. If another 3.7 mills is added this year, that would mean a home with a value of $100,000 would cost the property owner an additional $122.
Lucas said commissioners will continue working to find ways to shore up the budget. Commissioners should take a share of the blame for budgetary problems, she said.
Allen and Lucas said they are not accusing anyone of mishandling funds, but some smaller recommendations have been made by an internal auditor.
"A forensic audit would tell us where our money went and if there was any impropriety," she said. "I’m not saying there are some improprieties, but if there are, a forensic audit would tell us that and would also give us a fresh start on how we can start moving forward from here."