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Local governments not complying with law

Budget reports supposed to be put onlin

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POSTED: July 28, 2012 7:00 a.m.

The Liberty and Long boards of education both are compliant with a new state law that requires governments to share their budgets electronically, but some other local entities are not.  
The law requires certain entities with annual budgets of more than $1 million to upload their budgets to a website maintained by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia within 30 calendar days of adopting the budget ordinance or resolution.
On Tuesday, Liberty and Long counties’ budgets for fiscal year 2013 had not yet been posted, and Vinson Institute Public Service Associate Dr. Wes Clarke said everything that has been received recently was posted.  
Long County Chairman Bobby Walker said Wednesday that the county likely will adopt its FY13 budget in August.
Long County’s fiscal year began July 1, and governments are required by law to adopt a budget no more than 30 days after the beginning of their fiscal year.
“We’ve got a couple department heads still working on that and turning it in,” Walker said. “We try to stay in compliance with that.”
The Liberty County Board of Commissioners adopted its $25.8 million budget during a June 21 meeting, 37 days ago.
“We have attempted to upload it but appear to be having some technical issues with the upload,” County Administrator Joey Brown said Tuesday.
By Wednesday afternoon, the 2013 Liberty County budget was on the site. Brown said the county also is looking for a way to post the budget to its own site.
And while governments posting their budgets online as the city of Hinesville does may be a transparent move, the law requires budgets to be reported to the Vinson Institute regardless.
“Rep. Edward Lindsey was the primary author, and his stated purpose was for regular transparency, to get more information out there than the public can use …,” Clarke said.  “I do know that there was a desire to have all the local government documents available at a single website, and certainly many local governments post these documents on their websites and have done so for years.”
Known as House Bill 122, the law requiring the reports was passed during the 2010 Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. It applies to any fiscal year that begins after Jan. 1, 2011.
As of July 19, 33 percent of cities, 57 percent of counties and 83 percent of school districts had submitted budgets, Clarke said. He added that several more governments have uploaded documents since an Atlanta-Journal Constitution story recently revealed that many governments are noncompliant.
“The law does not impose any kind of penalty or consequences for failure to comply, although we do provide information on compliance periodically to members of the general assembly and to others,” Clarke added.
The law only applies to entities whose operational budgets exceed $1 million, one reason the number may be so low.  
But Flemington, which had a $545,700 operating budget for fiscal year 2012, was among the entities that has reported.
Flemington clerk Terri Willett provided an email Clarke sent in February 2011 that contained instructions on how to upload the documents. The email does not specify that only those whose budgets exceed $1 million must comply.
“Initially, I was confused by the information provided and felt that it was best to just go ahead and upload the documents,” Willett said. “It’s always better to err on the side of caution. Transparency in government is extremely important.”
Although not required, Willett said she would add the 2013 budget to the site after the Courier’s inquiries reminded her about the law.
Hinesville, which still is operating under the 2012 fiscal year through Oct. 31, has all budgets posted since 2009.  
Walthourville City Councilwoman Luciria L. Lovette said Tuesday she was unaware of the law but supports the transparency it brings.
Walthourville’s fiscal year runs Jan. 1-Dec. 31, and the current budget is posted on the site.
City clerk Juanita Johnson confirmed that she learned about the regulation last year and said the budget has been on the site since just after the council adopted the $1.5 million budget.  
The Riceboro budget is not posted.  
“Our operating budget is not a million. That’s why it’s not posted … ,” Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin said. “We’re just small potatoes.”
The city has about a $700,000 operations budget and an additional enterprise fund for its current fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30.
Midway’s budget also was not posted Wednesday. After the Courier brought it to her attention, finance director Gwendolyn Lowe said she spoke with Clarke and submitted the document for fiscal year 2012.
Midway’s fiscal year runs Jan. 1-Dec. 31, and it adopted its FY12 budget of $1,640,635 on Dec. 27, 2011, Lowe said.
“Thank you for the nudge. You may not understand the workload of a small municipality with every one of us working under many hats and titles,” she said in an email to the Courier. “I want my city to always be in compliance.”

 

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