PORTERDALE — Documents released by the city of Porterdale last week offer some insight into financial troubles that preceded the resignation of former city manager Bob Thomson in August.
The City Council adopted a series of financial best practices and recommendations on July 24, some of which indicate that the city was experiencing cash flow and other financial management problems well before Thomson resigned on Aug. 5. Thomson’s resignation followed the launch of a GBI forgery investigation in the city.
Under Thomson’s day-to-day management, invoices for hundreds of thousands of dollars went unpaid — including payments to Georgia Power, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, Newton County Water Resources, Newton County 911, engineers Carter & Sloope, the Newton County Landfill and others.
The best practices and recommendations were submitted to the council July 3 by Twan Leonard, CPA for the city, and City Clerk Mallory Minor. The council adopted them July 24 and implemented a spending and hiring freeze recommended by interim City Manager Robert Witcher on Aug. 28. Council members signed a letter Sept. 3 stating that the city is “working to process current bills and has contacted and is working with its vendors, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, the county and others to address the status of and payment of the city’s accounts payable.”
“We are fully implementing the recommendations,” said Mayor Arline Chapman. “We are taking them forward and implementing these recommendations as a guide.”
The recommendations indicate that there was a lack of supporting documentation for city bank transfers, vendor payments and purchases; a lack of internal oversight for some transactions; and other lax financial practices.
In particular, Leonard and Minor noted that Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds should not be used to make payments on city accounts.
“Making payments from SPLOST that are not allowed is in violation of state law,” they wrote. “Proper controls need to be put in place to make sure SPLOST funds are used for the purpose received.”
Under an intergovernmental agreement with Newton County, Porterdale is required to maintain a separate account for SPLOST funds. The funds may be used only for purposes listed in the 2017 referendum — primarily public works projects, the Yellow River Park and municipal buildings.
According to Newton County, as of the end of August, Porterdale had received $947,499 from 2017 SPLOST collections. The city is due to receive a total of $2.436 million in 2017 SPLOST funds. According to a list of 2017 SPLOST expenditures obtained by a resident via an Open Records request, the city has spent about $662,342 in SPLOST funds so far. About $80,000 was spent to renovate the former volunteer fire station for use as City Hall. The city is in the process of renovating the former city hall for use as headquarters for the Porterdale Police Department. That project is estimated at $430,000 to $450,000.
Chapman said Wednesday that SPLOST funds have not been co-mingled with other funds.
That apparently hasn’t been the case with other funds. The best practices and recommendations indicate that water and sewer receipts may have been used to pay employees or vendors, and some funds may have been used as petty cash. According to the recommendations, “water and sewer has been funding payroll more than 50 percent since January 2019.”
Chapman said that was a red flag for the council.
“Part of the effort that is being put forth by the interim city manager is getting all of that straightened out,” she said. “Everything is being put where it should be; there are things that should not have been co-mingled.”
Chapman said the best practices and recommendations on the city’s finances had been in the works since early this year and that the GBI investigation is not a direct consequence of the recommendations. She said she’s had no indication when the GBI will complete its investigation and the forensic audit.