Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sept. 27 Budget Hearings Ignore Statutes

Wilmer City Council has announced (via the community bulletin board) an unprecedented third City Council Meeting this month to include a public hearing on the proposed FY 2007-2008 Municipal Budget on Thursday September 27 at 7:30PM. There have been no published announcements of the proposed public hearing in the official newspaper of record, the Ellis County Press, as required by state law.

Local Government Code Section 102.005 provides that the budget must be filed with the municipal clerk at least 30 days before the municipality makes its tax levy for the fiscal year - and that the proposed budget be available for inspection by any taxpayer. Local Government Code Sec 102.006 provides that notice of public hearings on local budgets must be published in the newspaper no earlier than 30 days and no less than 10 days before the date of the public hearing. Further, the budget must be filed with the municipal clerk at least 15 days prior to the proposed public hearing. As of the morning of Tuesday September 25, City Administrator Thom Lauer stated the proposed budget not yet finished at the preset time and not available for public inspection.

Upon researching the appropriate statutes, Wilmer Public Citizen returned to City Hall (reopened after lunch) and obtained a copy of the proposed budget from City Secretary Crystol Birdwell, who stated "it's been ready for a month I don't know why he didn't give you a copy". A copy of Local Government Code Section 102 was left for City Administrator Lauer's reference, although we were told "It won't do any good".

Readers may remember just last week the City Council approved the audited financial results for FYE September 2006. This week the proposed budget for FYE September 2008 will be discussed in an open public hearing. Following last week's council meeting, we presented a Texas Public Information Act request to both City Secretary Crystol Birdwell (hand written during the council meeting) and City Administrator Thom Lauer (typed and dated September 21). Neither request has of yet yielded a copy of the FYE 2006 audited financial results, although the records are clearly "in hand" at City Hall.

The City Council's agenda plans to hold the public hearing, approve the FYE 2008 budget, and approve the new tax levy $.61/$100 instead of following the mandatory requirements according to statute. Calls to the Texas Attorney General resulted in another referral to the Dallas County District Attorney's office.

Another item on the agenda is the approval of the audit firm of Witherspoon, Yelldell & Wilson P.C. which have been blamed by the City Administrator Thom Lauer, Mayor Don Hudson, and Mayor Pro Tem Billy Wickliffe in recent meetings as the primary reason that audit reports have failed the mandatory timely publishing requirements under state law. The City of Wilmer has not met timely filing requirements since "at least" the turn of the current century and has constantly been cited by the Texas Water Development Board. (ED NOTE: Data prior to 2000 is not available online). The City had also complained that this Audit firm also prepares the the City's monthly accounting statements and refused to close the 2006 audit year because of posting current year (FYE Sept 2007) expenses. Citizens, regulators and this publication continue to point out the potential conflict of interest of retaining the same firm for audit and accounting purposes as well as the continual poor performance by this firm. According to public records as of July 30, Audit expenses ($31016) exceeded budgeted amounts by 276% while accounting expenses ($7265) totaled less than 40% of budgeted amounts.

The City had not properly balanced or accounted for current year to date expenses and revenues as late as July 30, 2007, according to financial reports received in response to Wilmer Public Citizen's public information request dated August 31. As of the end of July no revenue had been received from garbage collections, year to date payment of payroll taxes amounted to 20-25% of budgeted amounts while payroll expenses amounted to 70-90% of anticipated payouts, and numerous line items on the City's revenue and expense budget were left blank.