Hinds County audit finds millions in uncollected fines - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Hinds County audit finds millions in uncollected fines

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The 65-page audit, dated September 2010, states that the county departed from generally accepted United States accounting principles. They failed to provide financial statements for the Hinds County Economic Development District, and the Hinds County Mental Health Commission.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering says it's an internal control problem. "An internal control is an accounting term to say, you don't have proper checks and balances in place," he says.

If the findings occur again in the next audit, the Auditor may conduct a cash count and review of the books.

There's also $10.5 million in uncollected fines. George Smith, President of the Board of Supervisors, says the outstanding fines are mostly payable to the District Attorney's office and the Justice Court. "Some of those fines, they get outdated, people from out of town," he says. "It's very difficult in a lot of instances to collect." Smith points out that the services of a collection agency can be rendered for free by the county to help out, and some departments have already begun that process.

We asked Smith what $10 million would do for the county. "It would put us in excellent shape in day to day operations," he says.

The county is also taking out loans to account for shortfalls in the general fund. In this audit, the deficit is $2 million.

"We take the funds that come back, the un-expended money that comes in at the end of September," Smith says. "There will not be a deficit once that's done. The next couple of months until December, they're lean months. We like to have on hand funds to make sure bills are paid on time."

Auditor Pickering says other local governments are doing the same thing. "What we are concerned about is when we start seeing a habitual habit of a local government who is falling short on general funds, having to issue TAN's (tax anticipation notes) every year."

The Auditor is also concerned about the $7 million for derivatives in the audit. Interest rate swapping is legal and plenty of local governments are trying it out, but it's essentially gambling for a lower interest rate. "I've got some real concerns," Pickering says. "Right now they took $1.7 million in cash advance, possibly to the detriment of taxpayers."

The audit also reveals a $1.1 million expense for a parking garage project that the county abandoned. Supervisor Smith says back in 2007, taxpayers approved a $14 million bond issue to build the garage, at Congress and Court Streets in Jackson. But a short time later, the Board of Supervisors scrapped the idea. The money was then allocated to other projects, including the Byram/Clinton Corridor and weather sirens.

"I don't know why they made it a deficit (in the audit), but we do have the plans (for the garage) if we wanted to go back to them. We did spend x amount of dollars for those plans."

Supervisor Smith added the plans cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

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