Council plans overhaul of finances, city operation
March 18, 2014
Audubon City Councilman Tom Nielsen urged his peers Monday night to hire an accountant to do a comprehensive audit of the city’s finances to help curb its deficit spending.
"We have some serious financial problems... It's scary. It's very scary."
Audubon City Councilman Tom Nielsen
Audubon city leaders might seek a comprehensive audit of its finances to help reverse the budget deficit they say is unavoidable for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
"Without radical changes, we cannot get through (2017)," City Councilman Tom Nielsen said at a recent meeting when he thought the city faced a $500,000 deficit. "We have some serious financial problems... It's scary. It's very scary."
But that deficit was wrong because the budget the council certified this month lacked two significant sources of tax revenue. City Clerk Lora Hansen, who inadvertently omitted the taxes, said today that the actual deficit will be about $150,000.
Still, Nielsen, who began his first term with the council in January, said the council must work to balance the city's budget.
Nielsen and Councilman Jason Hocker said at Monday night's meeting that they will seek an accountant to do the comprehensive audit. Hansen has said the city has few options to increase its revenue because its property-tax levy rate is at the state-mandated maximum.
The audit and budget discussion is among a slew of changes Nielsen and other council members say they'll make to the city's operations in the coming months. Many of the other deficiencies they've identified - such as the need to educate new council members about their duties and state laws, create job descriptions for the city's nine full-time employees and a long-needed review of city ordinances - were spurred by the council's ongoing efforts to appoint a new city clerk.
The clerk's job was a minimal part of the discussion Monday night as the council continues to develop a description of the responsibilities and expectations of the clerk. They seek job applications to replace Hansen, whom council members have criticized for being rude, condescending and a roadblock to progress, especially as it relates to the city's increasing use of technology.
But residents who have swarmed recent council meetings amid the flap have voiced support for Hansen. The city has erred multiple times in appointing a new city clerk and violated laws that pertain to open meetings and municipal job appointments.
The council meets again on Monday, but an agenda for the meeting is not yet available.
The council capped this week's meeting with an Internet-based video - commonly referred to as a "webinar" - that reviewed the state's open-meetings and -records laws.
Several council members said they have watched the video privately, but resident Barb Jacobsen challenged them last week to prove it.
"How am I supposed to believe that you watched the instructional video?" she wondered.
Nielsen said she would have to trust them.
"You blew that," Jacobsen replied.
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