PALM HARBOR – Rob Moore’s title of “treasurer” on the board of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency wasn’t supposed to come with too many extra responsibilities. Agency chair Rex Haslam meant to be sarcastic when he declared Moore’s new officer role as “the toughest job” back in December.
But that was before the board noticed some major discrepancies and confusing numbers in the monthly reports of the agency’s finances Feb. 19. Moore was tasked with overseeing the efforts to address and correct them.
“I have discussed the issues ad nauseam,” he said recently.
His biggest concern was for the budget of the East Lake Community Library, which Moore was appointed to represent on the board. The mistakes the board noticed can be traced back to a former library employee who “didn’t know what she was doing” when she was entering budget items into the library’s QuickBooks program, Moore said.
“Things were getting posted in the wrong accounts. It was a little bit of a mess, admittedly so,” he explained.
Lois Eannel, who was hired as East Lake’s director well after the approval process for the current year’s budget was underway, has been following the budget as it was submitted to the county by then-interim director Gene Coppola. But the library’s day-to-day expenditures weren’t adding up in its monthly reports. Instead, the library seemingly was spending over budget.
Moore said during the Feb. 19 meeting that he had asked about the expenditures not balancing with the county-approved budget during the library’s advisory board meeting.
“I asked that we review this budget, because I don’t think it’s right,” he told the board. “There’s no reason why this shouldn’t match what we send to the county.”
Other members of the agency – appointed by the county commissioners to oversee the East Lake library as well as the budgets for the Palm Harbor library and recreation entities – were equally confused. Board member Elliott Stern asked Moore to represent the board in making sure that the numbers were correct each month. The financials as reported were not acceptable, he said.
“I’m going to tell you, if I was a county commissioner, I’d tear it apart,” he said. “I wouldn’t let the people who reported to me do something like this.”
Since the agency’s meeting in February, Moore met with Eannel; the agency’s accountant, Gene Cunningham, and the library’s advisory board chair, Jackie Waldford, to work out the issues. Moore ran his own numbers, comparing what was reported monthly to the agency with what was presented as a budget to the county.
“It’s a data entry error, is what it boils down too,” Moore explained. “That has been rectified, and we are moving forward.”
Of secondary concern is how the other two entities report money carried over as unspent funds from the following year. In prior years, the Palm Harbor library used those funds as reserves, but hasn’t been able to since property tax revenue took a plunge, said Coppola, the library’s director.
According to the county’s accounting requirements, the agency must report that carryover as an additional revenue source and budget its expenditures accordingly.
“Those of us that are accountants, to us, that money is not revenue,” explained Moore, who is the business manager at the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Even though the library is spending exactly what it is budgeted each month, the monthly financial report is written to look like it’s spending too much because the carryover amount is accounted separately.
“Why is it so complicated?” board member Terry Haas asked as the board tried to resolve why the balance sheet didn’t add up. “The income cannot exceed expenses.”
The agency board had requested that Cunningham, who was recently hired as the agency’s new accountant, provide simplified financial reports for February, making it easier for the agency board to pick up any errors or items of note. While the new reporting method did make it easier for the agency to note the discrepancies in East Lake’s budget, the carryover remained confusing.
Moore said the issue is not one that needs to be corrected, but perhaps clarified. Potentially, the three entities could prepare a financial report that does not include the carryover, making it easier for the board to read and understand.
“I don’t know if that’s the answer they’re looking for,” Moore said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to make them happy based on the rules that the county provides.”
As a matter of procedure that is nonetheless essential to their responsibility, the board approves the financial reports for each entity before discussing anything else in their monthly meetings. Last month, the board tabled its approval instead.
Hopefully, the numbers reported to the agency for their March 19 meeting will balance correctly, and “certainly by April,” Moore said.