Benton Harbor gets a pat on the back

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — City Commissioners had a lot to celebrate Tuesday night after they learned Benton Harbor produced its cleanest audit in the past decade.

Commissioners were given a rundown of the 2015-16 audit, where they learned the city produced zero findings and was given an unmodified report.

Paul Matz of Rehmann Robson CPA, who reviewed the audit’s highlights, said an unmodified report is the highest level of assurance an auditing firm can give.

“A partner of mine indicated you should have sore arms when you’re done patting yourselves on the back for the accomplishments that you have here,” Matz said. “For the first time in the past several years, we have been able to issue a clean, unmodified audited opinion.”

Matz said he’s personally overseen the city’s audit the last few years and took note of the how far the city has come in its finances.

Particularly when it came to the findings, or internal control weaknesses. Matz said commissioners should be proud the city recorded zero findings.

City Manager Darwin Watson said this was a stark difference from 2010 when the city’s audit revealed 15 material findings.

“In 2011, there were 13 findings. Then there were 10 in 2012, 7 in 2013, 3 in 2014 and 4 in 2015,” Watson told trustees Tuesday. “That is a true testament to the work being done by this administration to make sure we’re compliant with what the law says.”

Matz said another positive to look at was how the city added about $413,000 to its general fund balance. By the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, Matz said the city had $3.4 million in its general fund.

This was a big turnaround to the city’s general fund in comparison to when it had a deficit of about $2.1 million in 2008.

From a timeliness standpoint, the city also improved when it came to its auditing process.

For this year’s audit, Watson said the auditing firm was in town only to review financial documents for a week.

In years past, it took auditors two to three months to complete the audit. In 2003, Watson said the audit took so long to be completed that it was not submitted until Aug. 16, 2004. That’s unusual because audits are normally due by Dec. 31 for Benton Harbor, or six months after the year ends for other municipalities.

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30.

The fiscal turnaround comes after the Benton Harbor Receivership Transition Advisory Board was dissolved in July. The move allowed city officials to manage internal operations and finances without oversight or state approval.

City Commissioner Duane Seats thanked the administration and the accounting department for their work.

“This commission, most of us, have been on this commission long enough to ride the tidal wave of bad legislation,” said Seats, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Marcus Muhammad. “To now have zero findings is a blessing. This was a job well done in putting this city back on solid footing and continuing this path of good government.”

Seats said Muhammad was in Washington, D.C., to “commemorate the event.”

Tuesday’s meeting, which normally takes place Monday, was moved back a day in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The next commissioners meeting is at 7 p.m. Feb. 6.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 18, 2017)

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