• Staff

Alderman raises red flag regarding public safety tax fund

By Gary Groman, a.k.a. The Ole Seagull

During the Aldermen’s reports of the May 26, 2020, Branson Board of Aldermen Meeting, Ward II Alderman, Larry Milton said, “My report this week is very troubling for me and should be for this BOA [board] and concerned citizens in Branson. I am raising a red flag regarding the public safety tax fund.”

In his report, Milton first gave the background of the public safety tax. He said that the city has been collecting the tax since April 1, 2018, voters “were promised that if they passed this tax that there would be an oversight committee, and there would be no supplanting from the general fund.”

Milton, a member of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, began having concerns as a result of Betsy McConnell raising questions to the board about expenditures from the public safety tax fund and its oversight committee. He sought to get more information about both spending from the fund and the operation of its oversight committee.

He said that he asked Alderman Bill Skains, a member of the public safety tax fund oversight committee (Committee,) three simple questions. “Does the oversight committee have scheduled meetings or do they meet as needed? How often did the oversight committee meet during 2019? Does the oversight committee review the financials for this fund?” Milton’s report indicates that he was “dumbfounded” when Skains refused to answer these simple questions except to say, “Contact the chairman of this committee.”

The report goes on to say that Milton contacted the chairman of the oversight committee, Dick Gass, asking him the same three questions. His answer to the first two questions was that they met as needed, probably four or five times during 2019.

When asked, “Does the oversight committee review the financials for this fund?” Gass said, “No. They only compare the tax collected for the public safety tax fund with the tax collected for the transportation tax to make sure these were close to the same amounts due to the transportation tax being collected the same way.”

Milton said that he then asked city officials, “Who reviews the financials for the public safety tax fund?” He was told that the Budget and Finance Committee is the oversight committee that reviews these financials. This alarmed him because he is on the Budget and Finance Committee, and they have not acted as an oversight committee for this fund. He said, “…I recall at each meeting reviewing a 1-page summary report of this fund, but in no way were we acting as an oversight committee looking for possible supplanting of funds.”

Milton said that he began asking questions about the fund. “I will admit that my frustrations starting building as many of my questions were met with resistance and deflecting. There were no straight answers,” he added.

One example was the difference between the $142,000 ending balance in 2018 and the beginning balance for 2019. Recently, Jamie Rauch, Branson’s Finance Director “said that she knows where that difference is; however, I could not explanation that same day or the following day. I have not heard a peep, and I do not have the hours nor the desire to continuing playing charades and continuing to chase down this information.”

Milton asked the “Board to consider expanding the scope of work for the current city audit, to include a detailed audit addressing the public safety tax fund. He also requests that the City Administrator put the item on “our next BOA meeting to be discussed and voted on.”

During his City Administrator’s Report, City Administrator Stan Dobbins said, “Alderman Milton, I understand your frustration. The biggest problem that we have is your lack of understanding of governmental financing.” He also said, among other things, that there is no supplanting, the public safety tax fund is audited every year as part of the city’s annual audit, and that the Finance Committee does review every expenditure.

During a phone interview on May 27, Milton said, “I may not understand ‘government financing,’ but I have been a businessman for over 40 years and know that there should not be a $142,000 difference between the ending balance of one period and the beginning balance of the next period.”

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