Athens Commission discusses external audit of spending and strategic plan update | City News

During a business session on Tuesday evening, the mayor and the Athens-Clarke County Commission received a presentation from an external auditor and an updated strategic plan on which to base future legislation.

Budget review

Josh Carroll, director of consultancy firm Mauldin & Jenkins, presented the firm’s findings during an external audit of Athens’ budget. The firm found no anomalies in government finances, but offered recommendations that would change some job descriptions in the justice system.

Georgian law requires cities to conduct an annual audit by an independent third party. This external audit reviews financial records while internal audits focus on non-financial practices, according to the presentation.

The audit found no discrepancies in basic financial statements, federal grant compliance, or accounting policies.

All departments went over budget, generating savings of about $7 million, which Carroll attributed to ACCgov building closures, program closures, and other factors. Athens also received 7% more revenue than planned through the one-time CARES Act grant.

Property taxes contributed 47.9% of Athens’ revenue. The rest of the revenue came from sales tax (19.4%), other taxes (17.5%) and other revenue, including grants, (15.2%).

Carroll recommended multiple assignments in trial, municipal and probate court jobs, as well as sheriff’s administrative accounts. These proposed amendments ensure an internal control structure for cash management.

For example, the audit recommends that in Probate Court, the same person should not receive cash and checks and also investigate discrepancies related to money. He also proposes that more than one person be authorized to sign on the magistrates’ court bank account.

Carroll ended the presentation by explaining how recently passed legislation will affect the 2022 fiscal year audit, speaking specifically to government leases.

Strategic planning

Chief data officer Joseph D’Angelo presented the commission with a strategic plan for 2023 to 2025 that included an explanation of the plan, its goals and a timeline.

According to the presentation, the plan will establish priorities for the period, focus resources on certain objectives and prepare for those of the future.

The process began in August 2021, when the commission met to discuss a strategic plan during a working retreat. Since then, the commission, the mayor, community members and government staff have worked to create strategies and initiatives.

The plan is divided into six objectives. According to the presentation, these are broad, measurable and achievable within a defined time frame.

The first goal, titled Good Neighbours, focuses on addressing racism, trauma, prejudice and violence within the community. The goal includes reducing the city’s prison population, decreasing crime, promoting healthy lifestyle choices and building public confidence.

Other goals include closing gaps in community partnership, improving organization, ensuring affordable housing, expanding safe transportation assets, and maintaining climate commitments while improving infrastructure.

District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle raised questions about whether the plan could be changed, citing the current pandemic as an example of an unpredictable event.

“That’s part of why we plan, to be prepared for contingencies that we may not have anticipated. I think everyone recognizes that if something catastrophic were to happen, we should re-evaluate our priorities,” D’Angelo said. “So yes, it will be a living document to some extent.”

The plan will go to the committee for a vote in the next agenda cycle, according to D’Angelo.

Aurora J. William