PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Pascagoula city officials are working with state authorities to try learn more about a $14 million deficit that was recently discovered in the city's budget.
In a release issued by the city on Friday, Mayor Dane Maxwell said the city has turned over a packet of documents to State Auditor Shad White and the Jackson County District Attorney.
"At this time, we have handed over a packet of documents to both the District Attorney and the Office of the State Auditor for their review," said the mayor in a press release. "This includes city budgets and related documents for years 2012 to 2017 and the recent forensic audit commissioned by this administration."
The mayor said his administration requested a forensic audit immediately after learning about the budget problems.
"We initiated this action as we continue to seek a complete understanding of the severity of poor fiscal management practices in the past, and the extent to which any employees or officials were responsible or had knowledge of the financial mismanagement at the city," said the mayor.
A report from the auditor indicated that "the best practices in municipal budgeting were not followed by previous administrations." However, it is not yet clear how the money was spent or by whom.
"It must be reiterated that while we initiated these external reviews by state authorities, this administration is not involved in that process," said the mayor. "We discovered this problem. We sought the assistance of a forensic auditor. We revealed the issue in a transparent manner and at a public forum, and we now leave it to the experts to make their determinations."
City councilman Stephen Burrow said the city is now working with authorities to prevent a deficit like this from occurring again. They are also working on ways to bring the budget out of the red.
"I emphasized to the Auditor the need for a full inquiry as to exactly what happened, recommend how to prevent this from occurring again, and work with us to chart a path for our City back to financial stability," said Burrow. "The auditor said he would do exactly that. He expressed great appreciation for the initiative we took in bringing this dire situation to light, immediately notifying his office of the audit findings, and how proactive we have been in furnishing him and his staff with information. I told the auditor we would continue to do so."
"I greatly appreciate Shad White for taking time to come down to Pascagoula, and meeting with us in our hour of need," said councilwoman Jennifer Colmer. "He recognizes the unprecedented circumstances our city faces in light of this forensic audit. His commitment to working with us quickly to get to the bottom of what happened is welcome news."
At this time, said the mayor, the audit and investigation is being left up to authorities while city leaders work on ways to prepare for the future.
"We are laser focused on three things: cutting expenses even further; exploring ways to increase revenue; and preparing/enacting a sound budget for fiscal year 2019," he said. "These actions are being taken in a responsible and strategic way."
The mayor continued: "Together, we will achieve our ultimate goal of putting this great city on a clear path to restore solvency, respecting our quality of life, and preventing mistakes that were made from ever being repeated."
Budget meetings will continue until the council votes on a fiscal year budget for 2019. The public is welcome to weigh in on any of these issues and whatever concerns they may have.