by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- "Some City Council meetings sound like an accounting class."
That's what Councilman Bob Ford said to sum up his feelings about the complexity of the financial decisions he and his colleagues have recently been faced with, arising from an estimated $2 million revenue loss related to the finance department's water billing procedures.
Mr. Ford recommended a means of simplifying the process, which won approval -- in concept, at least -- from his peers.
At a recent meeting, the City Council directed City Manager Greg Kisela to develop legislation that would create a citizen-led budget and audit committee, which would be tasked to simplify the city's financial accounting processes in a clear and understandable way and aid council members in financial decision-making.
Mr. Ford said in a recent phone interview this would help the city "take control" of its finances.
"Port Orange has traditionally had a complex financial accounting system," Mr. Ford said. "It just needs to be so we know where we are financially, so we all understand the implications."
In addition to simplifying the city's complex accounting procedures, Mr. Ford also said the committee should work to solve problems the city had involving its audits. Although the auditing process is designed to advise council members where the city's finances stand, he said problems occurred as auditors hired by the city directed questions to finance department staff when they should have asked questions of the council members about what they deemed acceptable.
"This committee is one of the things we're doing to take positive control over the city finances so we never have these problems with water billing," he said. "... This will provide us another arena to probe these areas more differently."
City leaders are awaiting the results of a forensic audit of the finance department and the controls in place to calculate water bills. The problem was made public in October 2012 after an employee told city staff an energy surcharge for water usage approved in 2009 was not being passed on to wholesale customers in Daytona Beach Shores.
"(The forensic auditors are) digging in and doing what they committed to you that they would do," Mr. Kisela recently told city leaders.
The board's responsibility, Mr. Ford believes, should be to aid city leaders in providing "information we need to make informed decisions." He cited the issue of city pensions as a specific example, saying committee members would be able to advise council members on reasonable and unreasonable rates of return on the city's three employee pension funds.
With the board approved in concept, the next step is for city leaders to formally approve the committee's formation via ordinance. Mr. Kisela said the ordinance would outline the requirements for members to serve on the board.
Council members agree experience and expertise in accounting and finance would be required in order to serve.
"I appreciate the volunteers for our boards, but there are certain boards that require a certain expertise," Vice Mayor Don Burnette said. "This is one of them."
Mr. Ford believes any Port Orange citizen with a professional and/or academic background in the fields of accounting and finance would qualify. Councilman Drew Bastian believes members should also have expertise budgeting.