Crunching numbers on Hattiesburg's budget

Crunching numbers on Hattiesburg's budget

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - January's tornado, poor documentation and other issues are causing city officials to crunch numbers, quickly, to close 2017's budget before moving forward.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Connie Everett said her assessment of Hattiesburg's finances indicates that FY 2017 has been a difficult year.

"I am concerned, obviously," Everett said.  "I don't think it's exactly critical, but it does bear close watching."

Everett said the January tornado set the city back by over $4 million and the recovery is not yet complete.  With insurance and FEMA reimbursements, the city has received about $2.4 million to date.

"It's not something that happens right away," said Everett.

Everett said there are still three majors structures in Hattiesburg that need to be rebuilt, with other locations needing upgrades and improvements.  Everett said she believes those reimbursements will continue, but the city may not see the total amount until 2019.

City Council President Carter Carroll said a lot of the chaos right now is due to poor documents and keeping of audits in the past.

"The good news is we've been paying our bills and doing that in a timely fashion," Carroll said.  "It's just now getting everything structured correctly and the documents reflecting what we are doing."

Everett said this process of closing out a budget would usually begin in May.  She was appointed by Mayor Toby Barker in June, which has given her less time to look over records, documents and audits to close out the fiscal year ending on September 30th.

Everett said with the proposed amendments, the budgeted ending cash will be close to $2.3 million.

"The biggest challenge right now is making sure we are comfortable with where we are and that we have good, reliable reports," Everett said.  "That we feel comfortable with our cash flow, with our cash reserves and being able to manage and time these new projects that we know are coming on in this next year, year and a half."

Some of those projects the city is obligated financially to provide a portion of the costs of infrastructure development to is the Midtown project area, west Hattiesburg near the site of the new Regions Bank facility and the Industrial Park.   A report from Everett shows initial cost assessments project the city will invest over $2.7 million over the next four years.

"We found some challenges, some of that has to do with the tornado, some things from the past, but those things are over.  We've identified them and we are moving forward," said Mayor Toby Barker.  "We are going to set a response budget that we hope will make some serious ground when it comes to infrastructure and meets some other needs as well, so we'll see what happens."

Everett said the city is finalizing the budget for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2017.  A public hearing on that proposed budget is scheduled for September 7th, with adoption on September 14th.

By law, the city's budget for FY 2018 must be approved by September 15, 2017.