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Monday, September 15, 2014

Who's Working Where As Portsmouth "Saves" $150,000?

“Seven Deadly Sins"

Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice

 --Mahatma Gandhi

On April 9, 2013, Auditor of State Dave Yost elevated the City of Portsmouth's status from fiscal caution to fiscal watch. Yost cited lack of progress by the city to correct its financial problems as the reason for this action.  

“This is a real disservice to taxpayers,” Auditor Yost said. “The process has two parts: coming up with the plan and then following through on it. Sitting on the recovery plan does nothing but allow the city’s fiscal condition to worsen.”

Upon the declaration of fiscal caution, the city was required to submit a recovery plan to address its fiscal issues. The Auditor of State’s office reviewed the written proposal and determined that the plan was acceptable on February 29, 2012. On November 30, 2012, the Auditor of State’s office notified the city that it had made very little progress on correcting or eliminating the issues that prompted the fiscal caution declaration.

("City of Portsmouth Placed in Fiscal Watch." Press Releases: Ohio Auditor of State. April 9, 2013)

Now comes news that the City of Portsmouth "apparently attempted to show the Auditor of State’s office that the city payroll was reduced by three people, when, in reality, they were simply moved to other departments in 2013." This was according to a letter of explanation to that office from Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen.

Allen’s response was prompted by an inquiry by the state as to why the city failed to follow a recovery plan adopted by City Council in August of 2013.

According to the Daily Times, Allen was not employed by the city when the plan was adopted and he has listed nine “actions” in question in a letter to Robert R. Hinkle, Chief Deputy Auditor in the Local Government Services Section of the Auditor of State’s office.

The Questionable Math

Allen said the 2013 budget adopted Feb. 25, 2013, shows two employees in Grounds and Parks.

However, in February of 2013 three employees were bumped from Grounds Maintenance to other departments or divisions.

The letter says two of the three remained in the Public Service Department, but were moved to other divisions or sub departments that were paid from other funds than the General Fund.

According to the document, two were moved from Grounds Maintenance to other public service departments and one was moved from Cemetery to Streets, meaning there was no actual reduction in personnel since two remain employed today and another retired. The person who retired was replaced as well.

When the removing of the three was listed in the recovery plan, 
it reportedly showed a savings to the city of approximately $150,000.

“It is unclear where the figure of approximately 
$150,000 was attained,” 
 Allen said in the correspondence.

“There was no reduction in personnel, only reassignments.”

(Frank Lewis. City Manager Shows Discrepancies in Plan." Portsmouth Daily Times.  September 14. 2014)
The Result?

The city has reported saving money on payroll without cutting staff or reducing payroll. This is quite an accomplishment for a city in fiscal watch. Good news for taxpayers and the city government? 


The problem is no money was actually saved. The mystery of the reported $150,000 savings is "unclear." You see, no one knows nuttin' 'bout nuttin' and that's the truth.

The murky situation may explain why places like Mound Park are so unkempt as recently reported by Portsmouth City Council. After all, employees in Grounds and Parks are now evidently doing something unspecified in "other departments or divisions."

Maybe the city should shift around some other employees and claim to save even more money. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don't they?

"Shifty" seems to be the descriptive adjective that modifies money-saving actions in P-Town. Perhaps the initial major movement in city-owner tectonic plates occurred long ago on Chillicothe Street during the Martings Fiasco. Since then, many major deviations have resulted in developing a colorful Jello-mold consistency in city undertakings.

The State Auditor has sympathized with the taxpayers and their predicament of residing in a local government that chooses to "sit on recovery." The City of Portsmouth was placed in fiscal caution on November 22, 2011 based on the city’s 2010 audited financial statements.  

The audit included various noncompliance issues with Ohio law, significant deficiencies, and material weaknesses. The audit report disclosed that the city’s general fund had a deficit fund balance of $530,043 at December 31, 2010.  The city’s municipal court grants and rural AIDS state grant special revenue had deficit fund balances of $9,482 and $10,332, respectively. In addition, Portsmouth’s insurance fund was owed $426,000 by other city funds.

Conscience, character, principle, morality -- what is needed to bring an end to a lack of transparency and a beginning to full accountability? You tell me. I'm just an outsider "looking in" and wondering when some very silly things in the old city building will cease to amaze me. 

Maybe no one is at fault for anything, and maybe no one has an answer for the ills. And, as more and more time passes, more and more Weebles keep wobbling. This may be business as usual in a town that has more shifts than a Miley Cyrus Twerk-a-thon.

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