City leaders plan budget cuts, deal with rumors while waiting for audit results

By: Jonathan Martin
By: Jonathan Martin

The longer it goes, the larger the problem.

Augusta leaders are looking to make up a $5 million deficit for the next fiscal year. Now, a city audit says there's at least $4 million they can't find.

The situation seems to be snowballing.

City leaders say they are really working to get this budget situation under control by making some serious cuts.

But the job is now more difficult, because there are big questions about the audit...questions they can't seem to get answers to.

For Augusta leaders, the question remains: what's holding up the city audit?

"It's a bureaucratic situation and it ticks me off," says Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Monday, commissioners learned they'd have to file for an extension with the state. Auditors told them things won't be complete by the June 30 deadline. That's about all they would tell city leaders.

"I think they should come forward, or should have come forward by now, with some kind of answer, or what we ought to be looking at," says commissioner Marion Williams. "I hadn't heard anything just yet."

The firm has only confirmed there is $4 million in taxpayer money unaccounted for, and possibly millions more.

But Williams says the auditors should be saying exactly where the numbers aren't adding up.

"We need to deal with that," he says. "You can't cover that kind of stuff. I think that needs to be brought out."

News 12 visited Cherry, Bekaert, and Holland, the firm that does the city's audit, to see if we could get some answers about the money that's unaccounted for in this audit. We were told the person we needed to speak with was on vacation, and wouldn't be back until the end of the month.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver says the holdup may be a result of city departments not providing auditors with important financial documents.

"Staff has been instructed to get that in as soon as possible," he says.

Copenhaver says he's heard what he calls rumors that the audit is being kept quiet because of a possible revelation that millions could have been stolen, in the form of checks written to people who no longer work for the city. He says he doesn't believe that's the case...

"It looks like its just bad record keeping," Copenhaver says. "But if anybody is taking money from this government, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Mayor Copenhaver is set to meet with auditors next week.

Augusta has used Cherry, Bekaert, and Holland for its audits for the last 8 years.

Though they don't know when the audit will be complete, it doesn't seem like city leaders plan on waiting before they make budget cuts. Today department heads were given two weeks to give a list to the city administrator of ways they can trim down their departments.

Of course, any cuts have to be approved by the commission.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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