New practices could cost local governments thousands

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By Mark Scohier

Chiefland officials want state legislators to know they're not happy about a proposed mandate to change how local governments handle financial reporting.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday night in favor of a resolution stating opposition to the legislation proposed in 2011 by state officials. 

The proposed mandate, which is not funded by the state, will cost the city about $30,000 the first year for accounting software upgrades and extra man power for increased financial reporting, according to city staff. And the city will need to come up with an additional $12,000 every year afterward to cover accounting expenses, if the legislation is passed.

The new plan would require local governments, including water districts, school boards and educational facilities, to start reporting revenues and expenditures on a monthly basis, rather than the usual yearly reporting, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Accounting and Auditing. Assets, liabilities, equities and other funding sources would still only need to be reported once a year.

The legislation, in total, is projected to cost Florida governments $51 million the first year and $31 million every year afterward.

Commissioner Rollin Hudson, who voted against the resolution, asked, "What's the purpose?"

City Manager Kevin Gay said it was a knee-jerk reaction by state lawmakers to get everybody on paper doing the same thing. "This kind of takes the responsibility away from you (commissioners)," he added.

"The way I see it is they just want to look at it," Hudson said.

According to FDFS, the proposal is meant to increase transparency. The monthly figures. which "tend to be of greater interest to the public," will be made available on a state website.

City Financial Coordinator Laurie Copeland said the move would also ensure that things are easier to compare "city to city, county to county." It will allow the public and state agencies to "see if you're doing a good job" with state money, she said.

But, unfortunately, it also creates a duplication of efforts, she said, especially on the county level.

"This is just something our folks decided on," she said, referring to state legislators.

"They should cough up some money," Commissioner Betty Walker said.

"Monthly reporting is too much to ask," Vice Mayor Teresa Barron said, especially considering that the monthly figures are not audited and may be inaccurate.

Copeland agreed that the monthly figures could lead to misunderstandings.

"This is another layer of bureaucracy that they are putting on folks that they just can't afford," Copeland said.

Several cities and counties have passed similar ordinances objecting to the proposed legislation, she said, though none in Levy County, to her knowledge, have done so.

Bob Clemons, financial director for the Levy County School Board, said Tuesday the mandate could cost the school system $100,000 the first year. Most of that would be in upgrading the accounting software the school system uses.

"It would be a pretty expensive transition," he said.

He said he understands the desire to create greater transparency, though monthly figures would not be accurate. "I don't know if it would be of much benefit," considering the cost, he said.

Sheila Rees, financial coordinator for Levy County Clerk of Courts, said her department has heard little of the proposed mandate, but she agreed that it could be a mess.

"That will be a pain," if it's passed, she said Tuesday. "But we have not gotten into it yet," though, she added, echoing the sentiments of others, monthly reporting would not be an accurate representation of revenues and expenditures.

"We don't accrue each month," she said. "I don't know how that's going to work."

Bronson Town Clerk Kelli Brettel said Monday in a phone interview that she didn't think the legislation, if passed, would have much effect on Bronson. The town's accounting software was updated a few years ago, she said. If anything, the new mandate might only require a few more hours of overtime each month.

Stephen Bloom, an accountant representing the City of Williston, said Monday he, also, didn't think the mandate was going to cost Williston much, if anything, though he added he'd have to check into it further if the legislation is passed.

The objections, such as the one approved by Chiefland commissioners Monday night, will be presented this week to legislators.

Copeland said the penalty for not adhering to the potential mandate could mean the city is denied sales tax revenues, which total about $82,000 a year for the City of Chiefland.