Gulfport Audit Uncovers "Serious" Problems

Here's something we've haven't heard in a long time, Gulfport city finances are looking good. That news came from an annual audit report that was delivered to the city council on Tuesday.

The audit found that in 2002, the city ended the year $1.7 million in the red. However in 2003, the city was $1.4 million in the black. While the audit brought good financial news, it also pointed out what some say are serious problems.

"Our biggest concern is probably your water and sewer, because your debt service is coming up at you," Auditor Bobby Culumber said.

Auditors say the city needs to make $130 million in water and sewer improvements, but the city still needs $82 million for the upgrades. That means residents could expect a 20% hike in their water bills over the next four years to cover the costs.

The annual audit also found some surprises. For instance, the city does not have a signed contract with OPTECH. The company that runs the city's water department, and vendors aren't obtaining purchase orders before they deliver the goods.

"When you're violating state law on purchase orders and that's a very serious thing, because I can order almost anything I want, and not have to be held accountable way after the fact," Ward 6 councilman Chuck Teston said.

The operation of the Municipal Court system also caught the attention of auditors. They say problems in the collection of fines cost the city $1.5 million dollars over the last two years. Some of the problems included:

  • Warrant officers were used for security purposes when they should be collecting fines.
  • Juvenile offenders were given the option of attending a Citizenship Justice Academy instead of paying fines. Many offenders had outstanding fines.
  • The number of traffic tickets has dropped.
  • Probation companies weren't keeping track of fines owed to the city.
  • No one was in charge of making sure offenders didn't miss their payments.

"It's been very disappointing that the court system had some failures in it. I was very concerned regarding the municipal court system and the managerial problems that's apparently existed there for some time," Council President Richard Rose said.

Now, the mayor has two weeks to come up with answers to correct the problems uncovered in the audit.

On June 30th, the mayor will present his response to the problems and recommendations in the audit report. The following week, the city council will hold a workshop to take an in-depth look at the findings.

By: Trang Pham-Bui