When Mayor Toby Barker and his administration took office in 2017, the City of Hattiesburg had not completed an audit since Fiscal Year 2014.
But over the last three years, Barker and his team have now completed their fifth audit, which was conducted by Topp McWhorter Harvey PLLC and accepted at a recent special-called meeting of Hattiesburg City Council.
“Completing five audits in less than three years is a remarkable achievement,” Barker said. “It shows that we still have things to improve on, but it also says a lot about the financial recovery that we have seen in Hattiesburg.
“Its receipt is a testament to our administration’s focus on infrastructure and quality of life projects for progress across all neighborhoods, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Today would not be possible without the steadfast commitment of our Chief Administrative Officer Ann Jones, CFO Connie Everett and the work of the council for selecting Topp McWhorter Harvey PLLC to complete the audit expeditiously without delay.”
According to the audit, Hattiesburg ended the fiscal year with stable revenues in both sales taxes and property taxes. Property tax revenue increased 5.75 percent over the prior year, and sales tax revenue saw a 4 percent increase, part of which comes from the additional 1 percent sales tax increase at hotels, motels and restaurants in the city.
In addition, the general fund’s ending fund balance increased 17 percent from Fiscal Year 2018, in part because of structural changes to various departments, streamlining job duties and elimination of some positions as employees resigned or retired. Another portion of that increase was because of reclassification of some funds held from the prior fiscal year, pending distribution to various state agencies and revenue accounts of the city.
The audit recommended that the existing chart of accounts be annually reviewed and updated to facilitate accuracy and clarity, and that the accounting department perform a periodic analytical review of account balances to identify unusual trends or errors on a timely basis. In conjunction with the state requirement that the city maintain an inventory of assets, the audit also recommends the city to reinstate the tagging system.
“As we’re continuing to transition software, both in accounting and in court, we’ll start to see some of those findings roll off that have been held over the past couple of audits,” Barker said. “The thing about an audit is, it shows you exact points where you need to bolster and improve things.
“So it’s a direct feedback loop on how you’re doing your practices when it comes to budgeting and financing. So I’m just pleased that even given the pandemic, we were able to finish this one on time.”