Chagrin Valley Times
August 19, 2021
by Brian Doering
The Geauga County Budget Commission on Monday approved the Geauga Park District’s 2022 budget after putting Executive Director John Oros on the hot seat.
The commission made up of County Auditor Charles E. Walder, Treasurer Christopher P. Hitchcock and Prosecutor James R. Flaiz, grilled Mr. Oros on the 2022 budget and reduced one of the park district’s 1-mill levy to 0.36 mill to account for a $1.9 million gap in the spending plan.
“This is embarrassing, I am embarrassed by this submission. I looked at this and said: ‘Oh my God,’” Mr. Walder said. “So, in general, this submission is not in compliance with [state tax law] which requires [a] two-year look back for a year, when you’re going forward, and you’re off by $1.9 million and some change.”
Mr. Walder pointed out other mistakes on the spending plan to Mr. Oros during the hearing.
“You’ve double accounted for your amended and your temporary, which resulted in twice the income and twice the expenditures,” said Mr. Walder. “I’ve had this conversation with the parks for three years that I have been here, this is the problem using spreadsheets and why people should use accounting packages.”
Mr. Walder said the budget appears to be a series of spreadsheets done by multiple people all doing it incorrectly. “I have discouraged spreadsheet use for years and especially with the size of your organization.”
Mr. Walder informed Mr. Oros that Schedule A and Schedule B provide both inside millage and outside millage monies and it shows where those dollars are being deposited and where to follow the money. Those figures were not provided to the budget commission, Mr. Walder said, adding that the conclusion is no one saw the $1.9 million gap.
“Mr. Oros, you and the board members approved this in an open session, and no one seemed to notice that these fund balances are $1.9 million short of what they should be,” said Mr. Walder. “That is the alarm on an organization of your size, so I guess my question is why don’t you just give the taxpayers back $1.9 million, you can’t find it, you didn’t account for it, you don’t seem to be missing it, I’d give it to them, I don’t quite frankly know what to do with this budget.”
All three budget commission members questioned Mr. Oros on why there wasn’t a budget person in attendance.
“We elected not to bring them,” said Mr. Oros.
The Geauga Park District board in late June severed monetary oversight from the county auditor and treasurer by changing its bylaws, hiring fiscal officer Michael Fredrick at an annual salary of $69,014 and designating a depository bank.
That action initially took Mr. Walder by surprise and he expressed concern about the potential lack of independent oversight.
“I just read in the paper where you recently announced $3.7 million that is going to be set aside for [capital] improvements and that’s great, but that’s not in this budget, I didn’t get a supplemental, I got nothing,” Mr. Walder said on Monday. “If you can’t articulate the need for the money you can’t even account for, I don’t see how the budget commission can approve the revenue and that’s the real dilemma.” Money can only be held for a specific need, he added.
“I’m embarrassed for the submission, and I didn’t prepare it,” Mr. Walder concluded.
Commissioners again pressed Mr. Oros on why he made the decision not to bring a budget person to present the budget.
“We simply did not, admittedly I am embarrassed,” said Mr. Oros. “We will go back, and I am hoping I can get a copy of the PowerPoint and revisit this. Everything is there that can be presented, and we will go back.”
“This is crazy to me, I mean you are stewards of the millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars, it’s scary,” said Mr. Flaiz.
Mr. Flaiz and Mr. Walder agreed that if the park board cannot account for $1.9 million in the budget, then they don’t need it and should reduce taxes collected from residents.
“Why not reduce your collection by the amount of money [$1.9 million] that you can’t find anyway,” Mr. Walder said. “The levy we looked at is the 1-mill levy and if it were reduced to a collection of 0.36 mill, it would result in a reduction of [$1.9 million].”
Mr. Hitchcock said it would be in the best interest of the taxpayers that they be given some of their money back. “The fact that the park district chose voluntarily to not have a person who’s responsible for the collection of all of this financial data and making the presentation is unconscionable.”
Budget commission members asked Mr. Oros if private donations were going into the foundation.
“About 15 years ago I was involved in getting the park district foundation created because they had the same problem, they were taking private donations and commingling with government,” said Mr. Hitchcock. “You are telling us that none of these donations went into the foundation, they went into the general fund?”
Mr. Oros stated that the donation went directly to the park district. “That’s correct and, in fact, one of the donations at the bottom labeled FDN, that is the foundation giving the money back to us.”