County Budget Commission Returns $1.9 Million from GPD to Taxpayers

From the geauga County Maple Leaf

AUGUST 26, 2021

A missing column of numbers for 2019 and a double counting of numbers for 2021 in the 2022 Geauga Park District budget caused the Geauga County Budget Commission to remove nearly $2 million from the district’s spending capacity for one year.

During the annual budget hearing, Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder noted the budget was missing the 2019 column of actual revenue and expenditure numbers and showed and counted both the temporary and amended budgets from 2021.

In addition, he told GPD Executive Director John Oros and park board member Howard Bates the ending balances for 2021 and 2022 years were incorrect due to the double counting of 2021 figures.

“You are off by $1.2 million in the general fund (budget) alone,” Walder said, adding the figures for the 2021 temporary budget were misreported.

“That changes the math equation. It’s off by another $700,000 in other funds for the same reasons,” he said.

He presented the budget with corrections that showed the general fund 2019 year-end cash balance to be $4.7 million; 2020 year-end cash balance at $5.4 million; 2021 anticipated cash balance of $4.06 million; and 2022 budgeted year-end cash balance at $3.575 million.

Similar corrections were made in the other park district funds for a total adjustment for year-end 2022 of $1,920,661.

Total annual budgets were approximately $6.8 million for 2019, $6.6 million in 2020, $8.2 million in 2120 and projected $7.3 million in 2022.

Walder said the budget was done in a spreadsheet which contributed to the problems.  Had the park used the Unified Accounting Network computer program, the errors would probably not have happened, Walder said.

“In general, the submission (budget) is not in compliance,” he said, explaining the Ohio Revised Code requires two years of “look back” figures.

In addition, the budget submitted by the district on July 14 double-accounted for 2021. “I’ve had this conversation with (the park district) for three years. It’s the problem with using spreadsheets, especially with this size of an organization,” Walder said.

Zeros were listed for contributions to Medicare, OPERS and Worker’s Comp in 2020 for the district’s 65 employees, and the capital improvement fund was off by $6,500, Walder said.

“You could throw a stone and hit the problems with this,” he said. “No one seems to have seen there was $1.9 million missing? Not the district’s treasurer, executive director or five board members.”

He suggested giving the $1.9 million back to Geauga County taxpayers.

Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz wanted to know where GPD treasurer Mike Frederick was during the discussion.

Frederick, who became GPD finance manager in April, 2021, was appointed as district treasurer on June 28 when the park district board of commissioners voted to become fiscally independent from the county.

“Where is your budget person? Why isn’t your budget person here? Not one of you can answer these specific questions,” Flaiz said.

Besides not accounting for $1.9 million, Walder noted reports in the newspaper indicated the parks sets aside $3.7 million for unspecified improvements.

“If you can’t articulate the specific need for the money and you can’t even account for it, I don’t see how the budget commission can approve this budget,” he said.

Geauga County Treasurer Chris Hitchcock said the park commissioners had approved acquisition of lands and construction of improvements to the parks.

Oros said the budget shows an increase in revenue in 2021 because of unexpected donations totaling more than $2.3 million that were moved into the general fund.

The land improvement fund balance sheet shows a total appropriation budget of $3.18 million for 2021 and $280,000 for 2022.

Hitchcock questioned why those funds were comingled with the general fund when the Geauga Parks Foundation was set up 15 years ago to manage private donations.

“Benefactors can set up donations without us knowing,” Oros said.

Hitchcock questioned the legality of comingling monies and said not having the district’s treasurer present to answer questions was “unconscionable.”

“The park district has a lot of money belonging to taxpayers. It is not being properly accounted for – that is clear,” he said. “It is in the best interests of the taxpayers that they be given some of their money back for a year to the tune of $1.9 million.”

The park district’s attorney, Todd Hicks, requested the district be allowed to resubmit a revised budget, but was denied.

After some discussion about levies, Walder said if the commission reduced one 1-mill levy by two-thirds to approximately 0.36 for one year, $1,920,661 would be removed from the property tax roles.

“That will be my motion,” Hitchcock said, followed by three “yes” votes.

GPD’s budget was approved as modified by the county auditor, subject to the reduction of approximately $1.9 million of levy collection for one year due to lack of demonstration of need by the park district.

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