A portion of a quote by a City of Fayetteville alderman in the last edition of the Elk Valley Times was a topic of discussion at Thursday's Board of Mayor and Alderman work session.
The quote can be found in the article concerning BOMA's vote to make the soccer complex happen and was made by Alderman Donna Hartman. In it, Hartman said she sees “a lot of creative accounting in the cost analysis. The city robbed every account it could to reduce the cost. The (Urban Development Action Grant) and bond money are still taxpayers’ money. At the end of the day, the taxpayer still has to pay for this soccer field that shouldn’t have cost anything if we had stayed with the original plans."
Vice Mayor Danny Bryant, who sits on the Finance and Audit Committee, said during Thursday's meeting he is concerned with the use of the words “creative accounting” when it comes to the Local Parks and Recreation Fund Soccer Complex Cost Analysis put together by Finance Director Stacey Rozell.
Bryant said he asked Rozell to put together the cost analysis after hearing some of things being said in the community. He said he didn't want taxpayers to be led to believe they could be responsible for the $1.5-million cost and thought a cost analysis would break down the costs.
“What caught my attention was a comment made by Alderman Hartman, according to the Elk Valley Times, anyway,” Bryant said, adding he had to follow up on the comment with the finance director to be sure something wasn't going on. “I was told these were accurate numbers.”
“I don't see it,” Bryant said. “I went back, and I looked, and I've done some questioning … I wasn't really sure. I've been hearing 'creative accounting' thrown around for years, but not really being an accountant or anything, I never asked anybody what it meant.”
Bryant said he looked up “creative accounting,” and by looking at definitions, it's not illegal, but it can be deceptive and lead people to the wrong conclusion.
“What that tells me is our (the city's) finance director is being accused of creative accounting,” Bryant said. “No employee should be accused of anything because (Rozell) is the one who put this together.”
Bryant said he is the one who requested the information. However, the finance director put it together by herself.
“I never had any idea we would have to deal with a situation where accusations would be made against the analysis itself that was put together by an employee,” Bryant said.
He said when he questioned Rozell about the cost analysis, she told him she had all the invoices if he wanted copies.
Bryant said he doesn't see a problem with the cost analysis, but he believes Rozell should be allowed to defend her numbers and her “good name” against the allegations in front of the board.
When it gets out to the public, and the public reads those sorts of things, it makes them question what's going on with the City and leads the public to believe the city is playing with numbers, he said.
“I don't believe that is happening,” Bryant said. “I'm convinced it's not happening.”
Bryant said Rozell's “good name” as an employee has been “tarnished.”
“I don't think it's right, and I don't think we need to be harassing employees,” he said. “We've already got one of those things going on now.”
Rozell addressed the board and told members Bryant had asked her to run a complete analysis on everything spent on the construction of the soccer field complex.
She said she went through original grant documentation with all of the estimates and compared them with every invoice the city had concerning the soccer complex.
She went through every line item in the cost analysis and showed invoices for each item during the meeting.
“That brings a total actual cost of that field to right at $1.1 million,” she said. “$500,000 of that, we are reimbursed from (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) through the grant. $206,000 of that is the idle UDAG funds that, when the board voted on this contract, they requested to use for this project. Those were state funds that were given many years ago.
“The actual cost that it is costing the taxpayers is $388,920.66. Just to break that down a little further, though ... we see $220,107. That is the Musco Lighting invoice and the irrigation portion of the Barge Design contract.
"That is what we have paid out of bond funds that the board voted on to use those bond funds for and that will ultimately be paid by the taxpayers,but paid out over 20 years. The actual part that we are pulling from our fund balance, the capital portion of our fund balance, is $168,813.66.”
The value cost of the project is higher, coming in at $1,594,920.66, according to Bryant.
“Had Goodman not have donated that land to us, that is what it would have cost us,” Rozell said, adding they would have had to pay $500,000 and the state would have had to pay $500,000. "We did not have to pay that $500,000 because of the land donation. That property, including the land and just a portion of land that we got to count towards the grant, brings that facility to just shy of $1.6 million.”
Bryant and Rozell also went over percentages during the meeting. Rozell said she tallied the percentage of actual cost because she deals in numbers.
“Dollars is dollars,” Bryant said.
Bryant said he wanted Rozell to present a cost analysis to the public so the public could make their own decisions and get the truth out there.
“Is any of this creative accounting?” Bryant asked Rozell.
“No, sir, this is straight math by law,” Rozell said. “I've always said, 'I love math because no matter what, two plus two is always four. There are no other ways that you can add numbers. Numbers are numbers.”
“My only other comment is, since allegations are made that creative accounting is going on in this process, go ahead and try to prove it,” Bryant said.
“Whether you agree with cost or what it's spent on, or whether we should have built that soccer field or not, that is no opinion of mine,” Rozell said. “My job is to present the numbers, and that is what I have done.”
Bryant believes allegations towards a “key employee” should be cleared up, because if they are not, “she carries that with her.”
“It's not right, it's wrong,” Bryant said. “I'm not going to tolerate our employees being targeted.”
Hartman defended her comments. She said she was contacted by the Elk Valley Times and was given the cost analysis. She said those were true figures and, according to what she had, they were close.
“I have no reason to question that,” she said. “I did not target any employee. What I meant by the creative accounting -- and that is what I told the paper … -- what I've said all through this whole process is it's a $1.5-million project.
"You take the land out of that, it's $1 million project. We got a $500,000 grant, which leaves the balance of $594,000 and some odd dollars. That's plain math. That's basic math.
“Who is going to pay that $594,000? The creative part is we are not telling the taxpayer the truth, really. We're giving them the figures, but we are kind of changing it. It doesn't say the taxpayer owes $594,000. We took out $206,000 out of the UDAG fund. That UDAG fund has been sitting here idle for years. It could have been used for a lot of things. It was not used for its intended purpose.
"So, we take that balance and put it over here. That's taxpayer money. Now, we're going to call it what we want to in this analysis, but that's money that could have gone to help with sidewalks and a lot of different things for the city.
“Then we go down here and say it's paid through bond funds. That's true. I never questioned that. I never denied that. But, who is going to pay back the bond? The taxpayer.”
Hartman said that leaves a balance of $168,000.
“Who is going to pay that back?” she asked. “We labeled it as capital funds. That is taxpayer money.”
Hartman said it's $594,000 that the taxpayer is going to have to pay, and that was the intent of her comment.
“I want the taxpayer to know that is your money,” she said. “That is basic math.”
Bryant said he doesn't know what is wrong with anybody not being able to see what is going on here.
“We get grants all the time,” he said. “So, what you are saying is we need to stop grants, because the city taxpayer is going to pay for them. We need to stop all grants?”
Hartman said that is not what she is saying.
“The grant is just like any other grant,” Bryant said, adding whether state-funded or federal-funded, someone is going to pay for that grant.
He said taxpayers will have to pay the same amount of state taxes whether the city gets a grant or not. The city got state approval to use the UDAG funds that had been there for more than 10 years, Bryant said.
Bryant said the issue is the allegations of creative accounting.
“Every bit of this (soccer complex funding) has come before the board,” Bryant said. “The board has approved every step that we've made. We've done everything according to accounting rules, if I'm not mistaken. … If you put out in the public that these kind of things are going on, you are going to have to be able to prove it. And, you can't prove it. Everything we've done has been above the board.”
Bryant said he appreciates Rozell and has confidence in her and what she had done.
“I will back every employee with the City of Fayetteville as long as they do right,” he said. “You've done right.”
Rozell said she takes her job very seriously.
“I hold myself to a high set of standards, morals and ethics,” she said.
Hartman reiterated she did not accuse anyone and said she verified the figures when she was contacted, but the difference is $594,000.
“It's time for this board to stand up for its employees,” Bryant said.