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Finances addressed at committee meeting

By Staff | Jan 22, 2014

It was stated during a Finance Committee meeting on Monday that Sistersville Council has been approving budgets which have not been properly calculating on the city’s CSSI accounting system.

“The program needs work,” said Councilman Mark Klages, who joined the finance committee following his appointment in December.

He indicated a report by newly appointed Recorder Brenda Weekly, stating that it was essentially the type of final report the city had requested and did not receive from former Recorder Julie Schleier before she left the position.

“It can’t be giving us accurate numbers,” he said of the CSSI system. “Part of the reason for having this meeting is to drive a list of questions to get to CSSI so they can fix it. There are several ways this program is not working. We’ve got to get level heads to sit around the program to track this. From a Finance Committee standpoint, I’m not comfortable approving a negative $424,000 bill at the end of the month. If I don’t understand it, I can’t approve it, and I understand accounting.”

“What’s in the program versus what’s in the bank statements doesn’t correlate,” said Recorder Weekly.

Without the correct numbers, Klages could not confirm the city’s financial status. However, he did state that he did not think the city was hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red as suggested by the program. That large amount in the red was cited from the most recent month of payments, so it was not made clear how far off all of the other budget reports placed in council packets for approval had been.

Although city officials could not give an exact timeframe when these erroneous reports began printing and council began approving them, it was also reported that the state rejected the city’s audit paperwork for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The City of Sistersville may be fined if a revised and acceptable audit is not completed in a timely manner.

“That’s why I kept saying during the council meetings, ‘This thing isn’t right,'” said Councilman Bill Rice, who stepped down from the Finance Committee in September, stating then that he did not feel he was receiving enough information and did not want to end up in trouble in the future.

Although no longer a member of the Finance Committee, Rice was present during Monday’s committee meeting to take part in the discussion. Some of his original questions regarded negatives and positives listed on the short budget reports, negative numbers being of particular confusion.

“It’s very confusing because, in accounting, there are certain accounts that naturally carry a negative number,” said Recorder Weekly, stating that council had not been receiving the correct information prior to their approval. “This just doesn’t make sense. It’s like you’ve got a negative balance in a credit or debit column, and that’s not the way it’s normally shown when you do an accounting report.”

She said she was not sure if the problem came from specs given to the program or the way the program was designed. There was also some concern as to where the numbers were listed in the columns.

“We definitely need to get CSSI to work on this with us,” said Klages. “It’s tabulated incorrectly, and therefore our budget reports are coming out incorrect. I want to caution anyone into thinking we (the City of Sistersville) are spending money we don’t have, because the bank is not going to let us do that. What it (the current report) doesn’t allow us to do is track burn rates.”

Burn rates were described as the amount of a specifically allotted budget or account that has been spent.

“The total number hasn’t changed,” said Klages of the city’s entire budget. “The money was shifted around.”

“We can’t dump the CSSI program,” said Mayor Doig, confirming it is a program encouraged by the state. “We (the city) paid $29,000 (for it).”

Resident Mark Walker suggested inputing the correct data into another program in order to create a comparable reference point to the CSSI system.

“What you may have found is a defect in the program,” said Walker, stating that some of the problems they mentioned could be the result of an error in the underlying system.

He said that inputting simple numbers into two programs and comparing the results might uncover where problems lie.

The Finance Committee went on to cite budget problems in the Port Authority and Park and Pool as well, but they said that the negative numbers may be a result of the faulty CSSI system.

The Sistersville Police Department was reported to be in good financial standing; Mitch Corley explained their budget was good, considering the amount of unforeseen overtime police officers might amass. Streets and Highways were also listed in the positive.

Because CSSI charges $110 per hour for repairs, the city will be examining all of its possibilities before bringing in a technician. They will seek free CSSI assistance via phone conversations while trying to find an instructional book explaining how to operate the system. Asking for a price break was also an option, considering that they are trying to fix the company’s program, which is not working correctly.

While Mayor Doig said that they are waiting for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) from Moundsville to get back to them, Klages suggested excluding that company.

“This program was created by Julie as the former recorder,” he said, expressing the need for a fresh perspective on the matter. “She contracted that CPA to do it. I just want that linkage broken so nobody can say there was any wrongdoing. I want to protect the city and Julie from this audit.”

If undertaken, that audit would go back 18 months to when the program was implemented.

The city’s cell phone plans were also discussed.

“Julie should have turned over the account to you with AT&T,” said Klages to Recorder Weekly. “We would like to put the Finance Committee on there, not to make changes, but to ask questions.”

He also proposed that both the recorder and water clerk should have access to the account. Mayor Doig said that City Commissioner Daniel Grimes and Chief of Police Ben Placer currently have access to the account. She and Klages agreed that as few people as possible on the account was better for the city.

As well as changing who has access to the accounts, the committee discussed downsizing the number of cell phones, adjusting the insurance policies on them, and doing away with certain data plans. While shutting off phone lines may result in a termination fee, Klages suggested that a greater savings of about $1,500 a year may result.

“In this case it’s good stewardship of residents’ funds that they’re giving us to work with,” he said.

Another agenda item addressed how many vehicles the city owns. Although a blanket insurance policy was cited and cutting vehicles may not impact costs until the next fiscal year, they discussed ways to improve the usage of the vehicles. Although employees must drive city vehicles when on city time, a “timeshare” method was suggested.

As for charges to fill city vehicles with gas, Mayor Doig said that they may be able to get a tax refund through an online program.

City vehicles will be further discussed at the next Finance Committee meeting, which will be posted to the public when a date is set.