COLUMBIA, Mo 9/8/18 (Beat Byte)
-- Noting he was "not a CPA nor a politician," Columbia resident Peter Norgard
gave the City Council powerful testimony about the need for a full audit of city government's books, finances, and practices.
"The City Council has before it a Resolution to conduct a comprehensive audit of the city," Norgard told the Council at a public hearing on Resolution 35-18, about a "comprehensive, independent" State of Missouri performance audit. "I'd like to voice my support for this initiative
so that we can restore some confidence
Confidence in the city's financial practices may be at an all-time low. Conflicting information about sales tax revenues (up in Boone County but down in Columbia
); employee wages; tax increases; utility rate hikes; and the city's pooled cash savings account at Union Bank of Switzerland
, $328 million as of June 30, have contributed to the plunge.
"Columbia citizens have been reading some disturbing news pertaining to certain operating divisions in the city that suggest a lack of clear and transparent management,
" Norgard -- a leader in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood -- explained. "Simply put, we have no way of knowing where money is coming from and where it's going. I find this lack of transparency completely unacceptable."
Norgard zeroed in on the city's Water and Light Utility, which has a local monopoly on those services. Water and Light officials had used an old trick -- exaggerated projections -- to secure a rate hike
"Forecasts for energy consumption were used by the Water and Light Utility to successfully increase utility rates
charged to citizens," he explained. "We continue to use those rates despite the fact
that actual growth
in energy consumption has failed to keep pace
with the projected consumption."
Norgard cited a problem with the utility's financial reporting residents have heard before. Council members have publicly complained the utility's director, Tad Johnsen
, will not provide them accurate, up-to-date financial information.
"Unfortunately, the accounting at Water and Light appears to be so contorted
that neither the increased revenues resulting from the rate increase nor the operating costs incurred by the department can be accurately conveyed to the general public, the City Council, or the Audit and Financial group," the city's Finance and Audit Committee, Norgard said.
The rest of City Hall lacks a starting point to even find the same page, let alone keep everyone on it, a problem an audit would correct, Norgard said.
"I think an audit informs the decision-making process
by establishing a starting point, which I believe to be critical for maintaining transparency in government," he explained.
He closed with a simple example.
"If I asked anyone of you for directions to a grocery store, and you made the assumption that I'm starting from Point A
, your directions would reflect that assumption
," Norgard told the Council. "On the other hand, if I'm starting from Point B instead of Point A
, then your directions are gonna get me lost
"If we audit my position
, so that both you and I know where we are starting from
, then you would know that I'm starting at Point B, and your directions would reflect that knowledge."
With a defined starting point, "I believe it's less likely the public will be misled due to inaccurate assumptions," Norgard concluded.