State audit reveals four findings for Metro Moore County in 2023

By Tabitha Evans Moore, EDITOR & PUBLISHER

LYNCHBURG — Tis the budget season and during the May Metro Council meeting, Metro Audit Committee Chairperson Pam Case appeared before the Council to present the results of the fiscal 2023 audit from the Tennessee State Comptroller’s office.

According to state audit officials, the intention of these findings is to help Metro Moore County correct errors, reduce risk, and strengthen internal controls when it comes to spending government money.

Case presented the finding for the committee, which includes council members Arvis Bobo, Greg Guinn, John Taylor, Dexter Golden, and Sunny Rae Moorehead.

According to Case, the Audit Committee met on April 15 to review the most current Annual Financial Report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. That report covered July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023.

In total, Metro Moore County experienced four total findings. Only nine Tennessee counties received a “clean” audit this year including Campbell, Cannon, Cumberland, Loudon, McMinn, Robertson, Sevier, Stewart, and Union.

No consolidated purchasing

The first finding is that “consolidated purchasing required by the charter has not been implemented.”

This finding recurs annually on Metro’s audit as Metro Moore County does not utilize a purchasing department through which all Metro purchases flow. State law does not require an independent purchasing official, but the Metro Charter does.

Section 4.07 of the Metro Charter states, “All purchases and all contracts to obtain goods or services made or entered on behalf of the Metropolitan Government or any entity funded through the budget of the Metropolitan Government shall be made through a consolidated Metropolitan Purchasing Department.”

The Charter goes on to call for the establishment of an oversight committee to review all Metropolitan Purchasing Department activities.

According to the audit, the Metro Council appointed a three-member oversight committee on February 20 of last year but that “committee has not met as of the date of this report and is not a functioning committee.”

According to Mayor Stewart, to his knowledge, in the 35 years that the Metro Charter has been in place there has never been a separate Metro Purchasing Department.

Mayor Stewart submitted a corrective action plan response.

“The most economical way to eliminate the penalties for consolidated purchasing is to amend the Charter through the election process of our citizens, which can occur at local election level.”

Case also informed the Council that the Audit Committee is currently gathering information for the council to review as a possible solution in case local voters failed to approve a change to the Metro Charter.

Accounting records not available by deadline

The second finding for the Metro Mayor’s office was that “all accounting records for the year ended June 30, 2023, were not available for audit by August 31, 2023.”

All Tennessee governments are required to have their records available for audit no later than two months after the close of their fiscal year. According to the report, those records were not made available until February 2024 and contained incomplete information.

Those who pay attention to the Metro budget process will recall that last year the Metro Council approved the first reading of the Metro Budget on May 15 and the second required reading on June 19. The third and final reading required a special called meeting to meet the June 30 deadline set by the state.

In August of last year, the Council voted to reduce the total number of required readings from three to two to avoid the game of beat-the-clock that happens each June. {To read our complete coverage of that change, click here.}

In the March election, local voters agreed to that change in the form of a Charter Amendment that appeared on the local ballot. That amendment passed by 34 votes with 479 in favor and 445 opposed.

Mayor Stewart stated that he concurred with the finding and that “Greater emphasis will be put on this matter by management during the upcoming fiscal year.”

Deficiencies in budget operations

The third and final finding for the Metro Mayor’s office was that the “office had deficiencies in budget operations” caused by a failure “to hold spending to the limits authorized by the metropolitan council, which resulted in unauthorized expenditures.” It goes on to state there was a similar finding in the 2022 audit and the Metro did not implement their corrective action plan.

In general, the audit names two instances. One, the audit found that appropriation for the General Capital Projects Fund exceeded estimates of available funds by $103,443. Two, salaries exceeded appropriations in 11 or 82 salary line-items in the General Fund in amounts ranging from $65 to $37,427, according to the report.

Case told the Metro Council that in response Mayor Stewart will place greater emphasis on budget amendments for the Capital Project Fund in the future including a new form for amendments between the Mayor and his assistants that should make signatures and dates of approval easier to understand.

The audit also revealed that “Some salaries passed by the Metro Council in June of 2022 for the 2022-23 Metro Budget were changed after July 1, 2022 without approval of the Metro Council.” Case also stated that the Department of Health issued raises for employees in May of 2023 that could have led to exceeding appropriations.

Mayor Stewart concurred with the finding and stated that greater “emphasis is being placed on these matters in this fiscal year to correct in the future.”

Moore County Jail Commissary bank statements

The final audit finding came from the Metro Sheriff’s Department. According to the State Comptroller’s office the Moore County Jail commissary showed bank statements that weren’t properly reconciled with the general ledger.

The Times spoke with Metro Moore County Sheriff Tyler Hatfield following the meeting and he stated that no human hands touch monies deposited in the commissary kiosk located at the jail.

“This is an ongoing problem we’ve dealt with for the past three years,” Sheriff Hatfield stated. “The company that provides the kiosk machine wrote software that is missing a line of code that allows the credits to be transferred into the correct bank account automatically.”

Sheriff Hatfield went on to explain that this resulted in discrepancies between the handwritten ledger and the bank statements. The jail commissary program is currently suspended until the records can be properly reconciled.

The Metro Utility Department and Moore County School System were not included in this audit report. To review the complete audit, click here.

The Metro Council will meet again on Monday, June 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Building. Any member of the public may address the Council on any agenda item during the public comment period. •

{The Lynchburg Times is a nonpartisan, independent community newspaper serving Lynchburg, Tennessee and the surrounding counties. We are dedicated to public service journalism for the greater good of our community. You can support us, by clicking here.}