ALBANY — Derrick Brown, the city of Albany’s Finance director and maybe one of the most soft-spoken men in the city’s hierarchy, was visibly angry. Brown, along with members of the Albany City Commission and a three-fourths full auditorium at the downtown Government Center, had listened as Will Geer berated the city’s budget process, angrily declaring that the city was not in compliance with state law and that its financial practices were “preposterous.”
Geer didn’t stick around to hear Brown’s rebuttal of his comments, but the city’s finance director offered a strong and passionate defense of the city’s financial practices, declaring that “Sometimes when you don’t respond (to accusations like those leveled by Geer), people tend to think they’re accurate.”
Geer was one of several residents who spoke at Wednesday night’s commission meeting, during which the City Commission not only approved a $288.3 million Fiscal Year 2020 budget but also OK’d a $31.6 million adjustment to the FY 2019 budget that runs through Sunday.
Brown explained that costs related to Hurricane Michael cleanup (with an expected tab of $24 million-plus, a large percentage of which is eligible for FEMA reimbursement), to the ongoing LED light installation project ($5 million) and the purchase of The Albany Herald building ($850,000) added up to the sizeable budget overrun. Geer took exception to that bit of business coming “during the 11th hour.”
“This board has allowed the city administrator to spend money in a process that is outside the State Code of Georgia,” said Geer, an Atlanta-based CPA who has an office in Albany. “And the mayor is now about to sign an ordinance (OKing the requested FY ’19 supplemental budget) that again defies state law.
“You’re allowing these cost overruns without going to the departmental level. Does the city manager allow department heads to just overrun their budget without approval?”
Geer said that if he were auditing the city’s finances, he would levy fines.
“Why do you even go through this process of passing a budget?” he asked. “Why not just pass a $1 budget and do a $288 million supplemental budget at the 11th hour? It’s what you’re doing (with the $31.6 million cost overruns) anyway. It’s like, ‘Let’s throw the budget out the door and we’ll deal with it at the 11th hour.’ This is preposterous.”
Brown called Geer’s comments “disheartening” when allowed to respond at the end of the meeting.
“I hope that everyone here knows that I’d never do anything to put the city in jeopardy,” the Finance director said. “The comments that were made (by Geer) are inaccurate. I even have a CPA on my staff. I can assure you and the citizens of Albany that we (in the Finance department) do everything we’re supposed to do the way we’re supposed to do it.”
Brown pointed out that the city is audited each year and has won awards the last several years for its financial practices.
“We are confident in what you’ve done on the city’s behalf and the way you’ve done it,” Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said. “We believe this is an accurate accounting of the city’s finances.”