Vice Mayor Gore express her concerns on Hopewell’s finances and seeks answers from state agency
By LyNDON GERMAN
Aug 25, 2017, 08:06
During a recent Hopewell City Council’s special meeting, Vice Mayor Jasmine Gore expressed concerns about the city’s fiscal future. Meeting with the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) she learned new information which she characterized as dire.
“I have serious concerns about the future of sustainability in the City of Hopewell,” Gore said earlier in the meeting. Later on the agenda the Vice Mayor would speak again during her request to draft a proposal for an outside agency to evaluate the city’s finances. Gore again referred to her meeting with the APA that was inquiring about the City’s delinquent Comparative Reports.
A Comparative Report shows a locality’s audited revenues, expenditures and fund balances for a given fiscal year. The Comparative Report is pretty similar to the city’s Comprehensive Annual Finance Report (CAFR) though not entirely dependent on it. The city has failed to file its CAFR for the past two fiscal years as well as its Comparative Reports. These delinquencies have impeded on state agencies from completing some of their task.
Hopewell isn’t the only locality who hasn’t filed its report. According to the APA’s notes regarding the 2015 and 2016 Comparative Reports Hopewell, Manassas Park, Petersburg and Richmond have also failed to file its report by the end of fiscal year. Others localities have even more delinquencies.
The Vice Mayor didn’t explicitly state everything she learned in her meeting in but provided a packet of documentation for her fellow councilors stressing the importance of her request.
“What is in this packet is very serious and we need to speak with them,” Gore said.
Vice Mayor Gore initially proposed a motion to begin drafting an request for proposal asking a third-party agency to evaluate the city’s finances and other departments. Some councilors felt as though the request was to abrupt pointing out that though Gore had time to go through the information, they did not.
“This is just all of the sudden,” Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey said making a substitution to motion to postpone Gore’s request until the next meeting. “I’m just asking to postpone this to the next meeting, which is just a week away, and give us some time to ask around for different options. This is just sort of last minute”
Mayor Jackie Shornak echoed the same concern seconding Bailey’s motion and saying, “I’m not going to vote for anything that I haven’t seen any kind of paperwork or background information,”
Amongst’s council’s discussion they all agreed their finances aught to be looked at as the 2015 or 2016 CAFR remains incomplete and their Interim Finance Director is under contract for a short while longer. Councilor Anthony Zevgolis made a motion, (which was later amended for clarity) for the City Clerk to contact the Virginia State Auditor and Inspector General to schedule a meeting to discuss assistance.
The motion was passed on a 4 to 2 vote. Mayor Shornak and Councilor Janice Denton were opposed. Councilor Luman-Bailey asked the Mayor to excuse herself and abstained from the vote.
In speaking with the ADA’s Local Government Audit Manager Rachel Reamy some of Councilor Gore’s concerns were made clearer.
The Hopewell News obtained a letter from the APA through the Freedom of Information Act. The letter was sent in March and addressed to Mayor Jackie Shornak, City Manager Mark Haley, Interim Director of Finance Lance Wolff and other state departments in reference to city’s delinquencies.
The Hopewell News also obtained correspondence of the city communicating with the APA on the status of their CAFR report.
A portion letter from the APA states, “Your delinquency in this regard is a matter of serious concern to the Commission on Local Government (CLG) because the information contained in the Comparative Report transmittal file to the APA is critical to the work of the CLG. Without it, we are unable to compute the annual fiscal stress report on Virginia’s counties and cities.”
The letter continues informing the city of the importance the report has to state agencies when gauging fiscal stress and distributing state funds. It states the following:
“The annual computation of fiscal stress is important to your locality because it is utilized by various agencies of the Commonwealth in the distribution of funds to counties and cities. Such agencies include the Compensation Board, Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Environmental Quality. As you may know, fiscal stress measures the economic strain of a locality’s financial resources and is gauged through a summary statistic combining relative stress scores that are based on the revenue capacity per capita, revenue effort, and median household income of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities.”
Also enclosed the letter was a ranking of localities fiscal stress levels from 2014, the last year Hopewell filed its CAFR and Comparative Report in. Hopewell was classed as localities with a high amount of fiscal stressed and ranked ninth out of 133 counties and cities for the highest fiscal stress levels.
“From our perspective without this data we really don’t have any idea how any given locality is performing or if they have any internal issues,” Reamy said in a brief telephone interview. “Really us not being able it complete our report every year trickles down to other agencies.” She also spoke on how it limits communication and transparency between the local and state level.
This letter and other concerns were a topic for debate during Vice Mayor Gore’s ward meeting on Aug. 7. From public recounts the meeting was open, honest and contentious. We spoke with Vice Mayor Gore to get her perspective on if the issues she raised the week prior had been resolved. To which she answered no, but hopeful.
“I feel really, really confident and have hope in our meeting with the State Auditor of Public Accounts that we’re going to have at the end of this month,” Gore said nothing that her residents were receptive to the information heard at the Ward meeting and the candor which administrators present spoke.
“At the end of the day I’m being held responsible for al the citizens I represent and when push comes to shove its something were to be received as negative I don’t want to put in a position to say I wasn’t doing my best research and fighting for answers.”