Tuesday in Bowie County Commissioners Court, County Judge Sterling Lacy distributed printouts showing fiscal year-to-date reported revenues of $20,177,135.83, reported expenditures of $15,535,377.34, for a balance of $4,641,758.49, and asked why the county only had $1.6million available to pay the bills. Yesterday in Commissioners Court, County Auditor William Tye explained that there was no missing $3million; the county had a deficit of that amount for the fiscal year ending last September 30, and some of this year’s revenues went toward that.
Tye asked for the floor as soon as the meeting started, passing out several documents. He said that because Bowie County uses a modified accrual system of accounting, the county had sufficient cash on hand to pay the bills in September and October (the last month of fiscal year 2012-2013, and the first month of fiscal year 2013-2014, respectively), but bills from the last fiscal year resulted in a deficit of roughly $3million, once all the revenue and expenses were totaled.
Bowie County residents will remember the sizable kerfuffle last fall when former Commissioner Pat McCoy declared that the county was broke, and wouldn’t have money to pay the bills for September or October. County Judge Sterling Lacy (and Tye) said there would be enough funds to cover expenses, and they were right, although they (mostly Lacy) received a great deal of criticism for that position.
I wrote an article about that last fall, entitled “Which is it – ‘In the Hole,’ or ‘Never in Danger of Running Out of Money?'” and included an explanation of the differences in cash and accrual accounting. Interestingly, at that point (early November) Tye said the shortfall was about $1.6million.
Judge Lacy mentioned a question he had received from a reporter recently (not me) about the widely varying numbers from the auditor’s office. Tye said that all his numbers were based on a modified accrual system, and said that the figures he had supplied the Court were usually just projections, and had nothing to do with cash. Commissioner Mike Carter remarked that projections actually are mostly about cash.
Although Tye said Tuesday that his numbers were accurate, and that the Court should talk to County Treasurer Donna Burns if they wanted answers, at least two Commissioners and much of the crowd seemed completely satisfied after Tye’s explanations. Judge Lacy asked Burns if she had anything to add, and she replied that she works hard for the county, and didn’t appreciate the implication of theft or misappropriation. Judge Lacy said no one said the money was missing, which prompted hoots and jeers from much of the audience. Judge Lacy was actually the first to use the word “missing” on Tuesday, so it would seem he mis-spoke in Court Friday. On the other hand, on Tuesday he and the Commissioners were careful not to suggest that the money was gone, just that it was spent or allocated somewhere outside the budget expenses, so a charitable interpretation would be that he was attempting to reassure Burns that she had never been suspected of wrongdoing.
I attempted to talk to Tye after Court, but he said he didn’t have time and asked that I meet him in his office. I waited for him until 4:15, when I had to leave for other obligations. I’ll try again next week when I stop by the courthouse to obtain a copy of the video.
Was the matter resolved yesterday? Lacy’s opponents certainly seemed to think so. Some of the county officials and employees that I spoke with while waiting to see the auditor, however, brought up more questions. For instance – there’s no mention of a $3million deficit anywhere in the county’s Audit of Financial Statements, completed March 31 of this year. Indeed, there was discussion of the need for a forensic audit, but the consensus was that it is unlikely that the Commissioners would authorize the expense.
It certainly seems the county needs a more reliable way of projecting cash flow, and for regular reports of such to the Commissioners (which former Commissioner Pat McCoy requested several months ago). They can make neither useful budgets nor necessary mid-year adjustments if reality and estimations are so far apart.