Council declines to pass budget

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The city of Avalon will operate without an approved budget for another 45 days at least, rejecting an explanation of millions that were apparently misappropriated during earlier budget years.

Tensions and tempers flared during the marathon meeting as new Finance Director Robert Torrez and Senior Accountant Matt Baker gave their preliminary findings attempting to explain a $3.1 million transfer from Avalon’s successor agency to the general fund in 2016.

The city’s current finance team had nothing to do with the transfers and budgeting that is still being questions, saying they will have a complete audit completed by Oct. 1.

Torrez and Baker said it appears as though the former finance team felt like the funds were “eligible to be transferred,” said Baker, adding that looking back, “we didn’t feel like those assumptions were correct.”

Before the fireworks began, Torrez and Baker went through the entire city budget, fund by fund, including capital improvement projects, explaining the fund balances and how each of the funds are allowed to interface with the others.

They tried to explain what appeared to be errant transfers of millions of dollars in prior budget years.

Council members were not so diplomatic about the prior financial explanations. It was “not normal accounting,” said Pam Albers. Council member Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy simply called them “awkward numbers.”

Both members said they were not satisfied with the explanation and reconciliation of the city’s financial picture of the last few years, they put a halt on adopting the current budget until they were more comfortable. In fact, both were passionate about their displeasure.

“You don’t make decisions about taxpayer dollars when you are not comfortable,” said MacGugan-Cassidy. “I have a good financial sense and I don’t feel good,” at the moment, she said. She expressed frustration that she has been looking for better financial practices for the past four years.

“I am not comfortable about adopting this budget,” said Albers. She questioned Interim City Manager Denise Radde and other department heads trying to get answers to what she said were still unanswered questions.

While Mayor Anni Marshall attempted to shepherd the discussion along, Albers and MacGugan would not budge on not approving the city’s pending $40 million budget.

Torrez said without an approved budget, the city would revert back to the current operating plan, suggesting that the city could adopt a capital improvements budget separate from the general fund budget.

Public Works Director Bob Greenlaw was questioned extensively about the ongoing projects as the council wanted to make sure the city’s major improvement projects would not be halted by not approving a budget.

Greenlaw acknowledged that enough of the sewer improvement project funding had been budgeted in the current budget and said he could make it work

An exasperated mayor did not call for a vote on the budget since it was obvious that at least two members were against adopting it and only four members were present.

Oley Olsen said, if necessary, the city could amend the current budget, saying he expected the audit to be completed and explained to the council in October.

There will be no new budget until then.

Council member Oley Olsen said, if necessary, until then, the city could amend the current budget. In the end, Olsen, too, said he was uncomfortable voting for the budget until the audit was complete and that he expected the audit to be completed by October. There will be no new budget until then.

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