Thanks are due to the Clarkston News for shedding light on the City of Clarkston’s lack of adherence to state law in its budgeting and spending of the taxpayers’ money (“Auditors call for more oversight” 2/6/13). The auditors’ statement that the city spent unappropriated funds in the last fiscal year is not the first observation of this practice. You can review the city’s previous audits on the state treasury’s web site. Going back to at least 2003 (the earliest that is electronically available), the auditors included the same observation—that the city improperly spent unappropriated funds. And the overspending ranges up to more than $180,000 in one year.
It is disheartening to read the city manager’s only comment as explaining this as just “an incorrect journal entry.” A journal entry moves funds from one account to another. It doesn’t increase overall spending. The latest budget amendment was more than a journal entry. It both increased spending and created an operating deficit by putting into the budget funds that had already been spent.
The sad fact is that neither the city manager nor the council believes that following the state budgeting law is important. Their approach to budgeting is to impose the highest possible tax rate, spend the money on whatever comes by during the year, and then amend the budget to catch up with spending. The resolution to spend $1200 on removing phragmites on the council’s February 11 agenda is another example. Although probably a necessary and worthy project, the council will apparently approve this spending without any budget amendment appropriating the money.
What’s wrong with this? The fact that it violates state law is perhaps the least concern. Spending money without first budgeting it fails to look at individual spending items within the context of overall spending. It fails to impose a discipline on spending that looks to reduce it where possible. It fails to look for opportunities to reduce the burden on the city’s taxpayers. It is not a responsible stewardship of the taxpayers’ money. We deserve better from our elected representatives.