Accountant gives City clean audit report

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By SHELLY WILKISON

An audit report presented Monday shows the City of Liberty Hill has enough money in its fund balance to operate city government for 10 months.

The $764,061 unassigned fund balance was an accomplishment celebrated by staff and elected officials at Monday’s regular Council meeting.

“This is huge for our city,” said Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis. “Last year, we had $121,198. To come from that to 10 months worth of operating funds speaks volumes. Then is when we get to do the fun things that the City Council wants to do for our community. It shows we’ve been good stewards of taxpayers’ money.”

The audit report of city financials for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, was presented by the Austin firm of Belt Harris Pechacek. The firm conducted the City’s audit for fiscal 2013 as well, at which time 12 management issues were reported.

In 2013, the City’s financials were being managed by then-Council member Vicki Brewer and former Mayor Jamie Williamson. Although the involvement of the elected officials into the daily management of city finances was not expressed as a management issue by the auditor when the audit was conducted months after they had left office, it was a concern expressed by other council members at that time.

“We no longer have a council member and mayor working the books,” said Lewis. “This was a conflict of interest and issue of concern.”

Lewis added that the previous year more expenses were charged to the general fund as opposed to the utility funds. That practice resulted in higher operating expenses in the general fund.

“Corrected assignment of expenses this year leads to lower operating costs and therefore, the money goes further,” she said.

Lewis explained that current good business practices followed by the City call for expenses related to water, wastewater or city sewer to be paid for by those funds rather than the General Fund.

The City has also switched from using Quickbooks software, which is designed for small businesses, to Encode — an accounting platform better fit for government use.

“This is a clean audit this time. The difference is you’re being more transparent from the last audit until now,” said Ben Cohen of the accounting firm. “All 12 management issues from last year have been corrected.”

“This is truly a huge deal,” added Mayor Connie Fuller. “Our goal was to get the books under control and make sure we’re on track. It took a lot. Now we can say that we really know where we are, and we haven’t been able to say that in years.”

County Commissioner Cynthia Long, who was invited to speak to the Council Monday on the status of the State Highway 29 Bypass, offered little information except that the road is proposed to bypass Liberty Hill from near the Stonewall Ranch entrance to just passed the high school to the west.

In introducing Long, Boatright said although she had been invited to address that issue, there was no real movement to report. He said no construction dollars had been allocated for the construction.

Instead of discussing the bypass, Long shared information on the status of ongoing road projects in the area. The County is making improvements to CR 258, and has started planing for improvements to CR 200 at the intersection with SH 29, as well as the roadway from SH 29 to CR 236.

She said the County will place a traffic signal at RR 1869 and US Hwy 183, with installation scheduled for May 1.

“This is long overdue,” she said. “Although this is a TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) road, there are so many safety issues there.” Other road improvements will be made southeast and southwest of the Seward Junction intersection.

Long said the County had decided to add a Bagdad Road entrance to 1,000-acre River Ranch Park. Phase 1 of the development of the park, which is bordered by the San Gabriel River and CR 282, will include the Bagdad entrance and hiking trails.

In other business this week, the Council:

– Voted to annex the 37-acre Mason tract located on US Highway 183 adjacent to the City’s wastewater treatment plant.

– Adopted an ordinance cancelling the May 9 city election as the incumbent council members did not draw opponents.

– Adopted an ordinance amending the current General Fund budget to reflect the purchase of property at 51 CR 279.

– Adopted an ordinance amending last year’s EDC budget to reflect the purcase of a playground shade at City Park.

– Adopted financial policies, anti-fraud, and purchasing and procurement policies.

– Set May 16 as the Citywide Cleanup Day.

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