City plays catch-up

Russell Anglin

Tucumcari city officials are playing catch-up with technology and grant funding to better balance the books.

City Finance Director Dennis Dysart gave a monthly financial report at Thursday’s city commission meeting and said he has been working with Triadic, the company that provides the financial software used for city records, to bring the city’s program up to speed with current needs. “Deposits are a big area that we’ve had problems with. We’re still having problems. Disconnect notices are another area,” Dysart said. “Fixed assets is an area that hasn’t been working well enough to provide proper government statements. In fact, last year in the audit we received a qualified opinion from our external auditors. We received the qualified opinion because of the fixed assets.”

The “qualified opinion” is an accounting term referring to incomplete or incorrect documentation. This year, Dysart said the independent auditors have hinted at giving the city an unqualified opinion, meaning financial records and legal requirements have been properly maintained.

Dysart said that uncollected water fees have totaled about $650,000 in lost revenue for the city over 20 years, including $191,000 in unpaid charges incurred between 2005 and 2009. He said the city is going to use collection agencies to make an effort to recover some of those revenues and that, with the help of revamped software, city government will be more proactive in collecting and preventing those losses in the future.

“We’re in the process now, which is pretty extensive, of identifying who’s on the system with deposits, which ones have moved out, which ones are no longer there, which ones are new so we can get those added. We will get all the deposits on the system and be able to maintain a ledger and reconciliation associated with those,” Dysart said.

These items have been maintained in the past by a manual process. The city’s Triadic software now allows officials to generate automated disconnect notices for water meters.

“We’ve been disconnecting an average of about 85-100 people per month that aren’t making their payments and are carrying arrears. That’s basically been automated now so that we can press the button and kick out red tags (disconnect notices) automatically from the computer,” Dysart said. “As a result, we’ve been able to identify a lot of illegal usage and have been able to lock or quickly pull the meters to shut it off.”

City Manager Bobbye Rose said that residents who move from one home to another in Tucumcari will now have to pay outstanding water charges before they can receive service in their new homes. “We’re going to go back five years, but right now if somebody comes in and owes us a bill, we’re not turning that water on until that bill has been caught up. We collected almost $1,000 this morning,” Rose said Monday.

Dysart said the city received about $20 million in state and federal funding this year. The waste water treatment plant is receiving $10 million, the new landfill claimed $1 million, street renovation projects cost $4 million and the MainStreet downtown revitalization project is receiving $4 million. Dysart said the city is currently carrying a cash annual deficit of around $3 million, and that the city currently has $1.2 million remaining in the bank.

Rose explained how the deficit came about.

“We have so much grant expenditures coming in right now that we have to expend the money, then we have to get a copy of the check that we sent to the contractor that’s already been processed … send a copy of it to get re-reimbursed. So we’ve got money going out and it’s taking time to get that money put back in. As a result we’re having a cash flow problem,” Rose said.

Rose said the tight cash situation in Tucumcari will force city officials to make tough funding choices.

“If you count your asset management plan, about how you’re going to replace the water tank in five years and those type of things, we don’t have that money set aside. We’re working on an asset management plan now and it should be ready by April 1, so we’ll kind of know where we’re standing as far as long-term and start setting that money aside,” Rose said. “We’ve made just about all the cuts we can make without cutting services.”

The city commission will meet for a work session Thursday at 9 a.m. The meeting is open to the public.