Hattiesburg catches up on overdue audits

Hattiesburg catches up on overdue audits
Officials are hoping that the final audit will allow the city to approach bond credit rating arbiter. (Photo source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After working over the past 17 months to help auditors finalize a trio of long-overdue documents, Hattiesburg city officials are hoping the work pays off in the long term.

Literally.

Representatives from Topp, McWhorter, Harvey, PLCC, presented copies of “Fiscal Year 2017 Audit” to City Council members as well as city administrators Monday evening during the council’s agenda-setting meeting.

The thick, bound document was the last of three audits that had drug out for so long that the city lost its bond rating, which in municipality-sized terms would be like a person’s credit score falling apart.

The lack of a bond rating compromised the city’s financing ability to issue long-term instruments like bonds, all but eliminating that market from the city’s borrowing mix or, at the very least, making long-range money very expensive.

Officials are hoping that the final audit will allow the city to approach bond credit rating arbiter. Moody’s Investors Service, to re-establish its rating.

“This is probably the biggest accomplishment between the City Council and the Administration and all the departments,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “When we walked in, in July of 2017, there hadn’t been an audit since 2014, and what that meant was we lost out bond rating with Moody’s and it meant that we missed out ion millions of dollars of grants.

“I can’t say enough about the work of (Topp, McWhorter, Harvery, our directors and the City Council and what kind of team effort it’s been to finish three audits in 17 months.”

The first of the delayed audits, “Fiscal Year 2015 Audit,” was delivered for approval in December, 2017, and brought with it more than a dozen citings of “deficiencies in internal control,” including a lack of oversight on utility bills; incorrectly sorting/accounting for federal grant money from state money from city dollars; and an inability to fill out required financial reports on time.

The second delayed report, “Fiscal Year 2016 Audit,” was presented for approval this past July, and reported many of the same oversight “deficiencies” as noted in the preceding year.

The latest report, which covered the fiscal year 2016-17, will be up for City Council approval Tuesday.

An executive summary provided in the audit discusses many of the same oversight “deficiencies” found the previous two years, with an addition: “The City did not effectively monitor the timely filing of the required quarterly progress reports prescribed in an executed State-Local Disaster Assistance Agreement.”

Barker’s administration was sworn in on July 2017, and he said Monday that the city has been working to strengthen/establish oversight policies throughout the various departments.

“Now, that we’re up to date, it’s up to us to stay up to date, and to go to Moody’s and ask for our bond rating back,” Barker said.

No timetable was given when that rapprochement might take place

Other items Council was expected to consider Tuesday, included:

  • Potential rezoning of two properties to allow current businesses on-site to expand to include auto sales
  • Amending the recently-adopted Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, adjusting some estimates after including real-figure/carry-over expenses/assets from the previous fiscal year
  • A “professional services agreement” with Certified Sports Turf Services to oversee maintenance on five baseball diamonds at Tatum Park

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