Audit report leaves East Point finances murky

The $2.2 million hole in the city’s general fund was among several findings an outside auditor presented during a 90-minute City Council meeting Monday night.  That counters months of claims that the city ended the year with a surplus.

Details, though, are unclear. City attorney Nina Hickson refused to make the draft audit public.

“These are working documents. They are not final,” Hickson said.

The denial appears to have violated the state’s open records law. When documents are generated during the course of public business and submitted to public officials, they are subject to release, said the executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

“There are no exemptions under the state’s open records law for working documents or drafts, period,” said Hollie Manheimer, who has headed the foundation since 1996.

What could be gleaned from auditor Michael Forsythe’s presentation is that the south Fulton County city is not in as good financial shape as it had hoped.

Last summer, city officials said that two years of furloughs and cuts had helped the city end the fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus, though the exact amount was uncertain.

It didn't. Forsythe told the council the city started on July 1 with a deficit, though a much smaller one than 2008's deficit of $6 million.

He added that the improvements, as well as the deficits, were the the result of a cleanup of city finances going back to 2003, when the financial woes became clear.

“When I got on board, there were deficits all over the place,” Forsythe said. “I think this is a better situation.”

Finances still could be precarious. The city borrowed $8 million earlier this month to pay down bond debt and run city operations.

Although that note is a significant drop from last year’s $12 million in borrowing, Mayor Earnestine Pittman continues to warn that the city’s finances remain threatened by past problems and the current economic downturn.

“We operate, but we aren’t maintaining,” Pittman said of the lack of funds for maintenance and improvements of city services. “It’s just like paying out every time you get a paycheck, and that’s not good.”

Forsythe said he hopes to submit the audit to the state by Friday. The state Department of Audits and Accounts denied the city’s request for an extension to file the document.

Hickson, who gathered council copies of the draft and said she was putting them in her office, said the council was not expected to vote on the audit until its regular meeting next week.

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