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Watertown hit with audit findings

Jared Felkins • Updated Sep 1, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The Watertown City Council received a bit of unpleasant news Wednesday during a special called meeting to finalize and pass the city’s budget. 

Following the council’s approval of the budget and 88-cent property tax rate, which remained unchanged, Mayor Mike Jennings told the council he received a letter from the state comptroller’s office regarding audit findings that date back to 2013. 

The findings are from interfund transfers the city did each year and go back about 30 years. The transfers were questioned when money budgeted for line items in funds other than the general fund were moved and used to pay for general fund-budgeted goods or services. It’s something Jennings said he authorized the city to do during lean times. 

“We did it at times just to keep the doors open,” he said. 

Jennings said the transfers totaled nearly $584,000 in 2013 at its peak but has since reduced to a little more than $424,000 in 2016 due to some changes the city made in its budgeting process. For instance, the city’s insurance was paid out of one fund when it should have come from multiple funds, he said. 

“It reduced by about $159,000 from 2013-2016 because about $45,000 each year was budgeted and not used,” Jennings said. “I changed the budgeting process, and that’s why I believe it’s been reduced.”

Jennings said to fix the issue will simply be to stop the transfer process, require the council’s approval to move funds out of the general fund to other funds and generally move money out of the general fund to other funds each year until the audit’s transfer amount is eliminated. He said the comptroller’s office wants a five-year plan by November with the council’s approval to reduce the amount. 

“I’ve got to come up with a plan,” he said. 

But Jennings said he wants the issue corrected by the end of his term in 2020, because he doesn’t want to leave for someone else to deal with it. To accomplish that, Jennings said he hired a woman, who has experience as an auditor in the state comptroller’s office, to fix the issue. 

The council also approved the city’s updated beer sales and permit application on a 5-1 vote with Alderman Katie Smith voting against it. Updates to the application included the addition of beer by the drink sales. The application requires businesses to pay a $250 fee. 

Smith’s source of contention remained with distance requirements, which are 250 feet – front door to front door – from any church, school, public library, etc. An effort led by Smith to defeat Jennings’ previous veto of an ordinance change the council approved in July to strike public library from the list failed at the council’s Aug. 23 meeting. Smith’s claim was by keeping the library on the list, it would deter a restaurant from locating to the square since it wouldn’t be able to serve alcohol. 

On Wednesday, Smith questioned having a distance requirement at all since the state didn’t require one. 

“Are you asking that we not have distance requirements and do away with all the work we’ve done?” Alderman Brandon Howard asked Smith. “…Have we been working on this for four months for no reason? …I think we should  have ordinances. That’s why we have lawyers, and that’s why we have courts.”

Jennings said most every city that has liquor sales has distance requirements in its ordinances.

 

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