JONESBORO — Riverdale and Jonesboro voted Monday night to join in the growing movement to conduct a forensic audit to make sure Clayton County cities are getting their fair share of SPLOST funds.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” said Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn Dixon before the vote.
Both Riverdale and Jonesboro’s city councils voted unanimously to approve resolutions that allowed the cities to foot their share of a $25,000 contract to work with forensic accounting firm Marshall Mitchell & Associates. The cost of the contract will be split among the cities depending on the percentage of SPLOST money each city pulls in.
That means Riverdale will pay about $5,600 of the contract and Jonesboro can expect to pay about $2,000.
Lovejoy and Forest Park have already agreed to join the audit.
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day said the SPLOSTs have been beneficial to the cities. However, she added municipal leaders felt it was their obligation to make sure the money was distributed and spent correctly.
A new SPLOST is set to begin in January.
“We feel a responsibility to our constituents,” said Day. “They voted in favor of the SPLOSTs, and for that we’re very thankful because that money has done so many infrastructure improvements. It’s built recreation centers and, for us, it’s going to [pay for] the Lee Street Park renovations.
“So we feel a responsibility to our citizens to have an accounting of the money that’s been collected,” Day continued.
Riverdale City Attorney L’Erin Barnes will work with Marshall Mitchell & Associates to carry out the investigation. She said she would examine 2009 and 2004 SPLOST disbursements.
The county ended up collecting $19 million more than was projected from the 2004 SPLOST, said Barnes. No intergovernmental agreement existed between the county and the cities then that allowed the county to directly disburse funds. Instead, the county passed an ordinance promising to complete certain projects in each of the cities.
Barnes said she understands some of those projects were not completed.
“My position is that they owe us the value of those projects or they owe us those actual projects,” she said. “Since we have done some projects with our own funds, I would like to see us be reimbursed.”
The numbers for the 2009 SPLOST aren’t available yet, but Barnes said she believes county projections for how much tax was collected may have been “low-balled.”
“Not intentionally,” she said. “I’m not making that assumption, but I’m just saying that they didn’t predict all that has come in. There may have been over-collections as of July.”
Barnes said she hopes the county will not only pay the cities what they’re due, but also be more timely in paying them SPLOST funds.
Riverdale’s mayor, council and newly-appointed city manager all seemed to agree with Barnes. So did Jonesboro, Forest Park and Lovejoy officials. In fact, Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart said mayors from all seven Clayton County cities agreed with the audit when they met recently, although some cities needed approval of their respective councils at that time.
The idea for the audit began in Lovejoy when the council there approved a resolution in late July allowing Mayor Bobby Cartwright to negotiate with the other cities to determine to pursue an independent audit of Clayton County’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.
Cities use SPLOST money to fund specific capital improvement projects such as road maintenance and repairs, just as the county does.
Cartwright told the Lovejoy council he felt it was necessary to investigate whether all the county’s monthly collections of SPLOST were divided and dispersed properly to the cities. He said he believes Lovejoy may be due as much as $350,000, according to preliminary research.
It is unclear how much SPLOST money may be due to the rest of the cities, but officials seem keen on figuring it out.
Barnes told Riverdale’s council she didn’t think the county had withheld any funds on purpose and said she felt “audit” was too “firm” a word for the investigation she and Marshall Mitchell & Associates would be performing — but she also stressed how important it was to figure out exactly what has been going on with SPLOST money at the county level.
“Because you guys have passed successfully the 2015 SPLOST, it’s important that this relationship is on good standing so that projects that you have promised your citizens can get done timely,” she said. “We ran into that in ‘09. Not all of the projects that were promised to the citizens got done. I don’t want that trend to continue.”
Staff reporter Curt Yeomans contributed to this report.