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"RESTORE CONFIDENCE": CoMo Realtors group wants State Auditor to examine city finances

"It's our money"
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 3/2/18 (Beat Byte) -- An organization whose members have neighborhood-by-neighborhood knowledge of Columbia has formally asked the City Council for "an audit of the city's records, methods, and finances from the Auditor of the State of Missouri."
 
Columbia Board of Realtors (CBOR) president Sean Moore addressed the February 18 request addressed to Mayor Brian Treece

Moore's letter expressed concern "that funds are somehow being misallocated, or at the very least, not being managed in a way that is understandable to everyday citizens." 

Acting on requests from several Columbia organizations, Treece called for the audit at the Council's February 19 meeting.   The Council is scheduled to vote on the request March 5. 

The CBOR letter detailed possible mismanagement.  "A local newspaper reported recently that the city had over-collected funds through utility rate increases, and those funds are now sitting idle in a restricted account, primarily due to reliance on poor planning, errant needs, and budget projections."  City manager Mike Matthes has led the Council to approve utility rate hikes every year he has been in office.

The failure last year of a so-called "use tax" on Internet sales was a red flag to CBOR members, the letter added.
 
"One thing that could help restore confidence in the minds of our voters, and help address the problem of tax weariness would be for a professional, independent source to examine the way we do business in Columbia, and report those findings back to voters." 

Mismanagement allegations have surrounded the City of Columbia's $320 million savings account with Swiss bank UBS since it was first reported.  The city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) makes clear the funds are cash "pooled" from every city department at the end of each financial year, and "available for use by every city department."  

"It's not really city money--it's our money," Moore explained.

The sheer size of the UBS bank balance -- divided into roughly 250 numbered accounts -- is astonishing.   A 2016 Atlantic Magazine article detailed how difficult it is for the average person to come up with four hundred dollars.  But the city's UBS account holds more than seven times that amount for every man, woman, and child in Columbia

Audit supporters include Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, who nonetheless bristles at the idea of financial mismanagement. 

"To suggest that the City Council does not have 'control' of those so-called 'pooled cash' accounts, or that the City Council is negligent with respect to overseeing our surplus accounts is ridiculous," he wrote on Facebook.  "These numbered, interest bearing funds cannot be used for increasing personnel whether for public safety or public health. These numbered and interest-bearing accounts were not established as 'piggy banks' for your favorite city service or operations expenditure."

An audit, Moore writes, is the best way to establish what's going on with "our money."

"If the audit comes back clean, it can help dispel the allegations of mismanagement that currently exist, and can help restore confidence in our local government and leaders," his letter to the Council concludes.  

 
 
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