Parks commission considers changes to financial reporting

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is considering changes to the way financial information is reported.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, commissioner Scott Barden said he is concerned about the way parks finances are accounted for. A lifelong accountant, Barden said he looked over the commission's books when he joined the commission in September. Barden said he looked at bank statements and credit card usage, saying he spoke with the Arkansas Legislative Audit representatives and other people who have worked in accounting.

"We have concerns we need to address on the parks and recreation finances," Barden said. "All these individuals recommended we seek an accounting service bureau to lend credence and confidence in what we're doing."

If the commission chooses to work with an accounting firm, Barden said, that firm would create financial statements from January 2019 to the present.

"Then we'd be in a better position to see what our assets, our income and expenses actually are," Barden said. "We'll establish cost centers so we know what we are spending on certain projects."

One of the individuals he spoke with, Barden said, recommended that the commission step away from using QuickBooks to record finances.

"It's a poor program that leaves no audit trail," Barden said. "It's subject to manipulation. It's just not a very good system to have."

Barden advised commissioners to be wary when signing checks, saying that makes them liable for those expenses. Everyone he spoke with suggested working with an accounting firm, Barden said, and he agrees with that.

"I believe we have a weakness in accounting knowledge in the staff and that has resulted in financial statements that are not up to acceptable standards," Barden said. "Because of that, we don't have the transparency I desire when using public funds."

Barden said he's already spoken with a local accounting firm that would love to work with the commission. It would cost between $175 and $400 per month, Barden said, and that cost would decrease the longer the commission works with the accounting firm.

"That's to get started," Barden said. "As the groundwork is laid and as the invoices come in and we establish processes, the time for them to get involved is going to be less, so the costs should be less. They are ready to work with us if that's the avenue we decide to go."

"So we're talking something less than $5,000 a year," said chairman Bill Featherstone.

"I'd be surprised if it's $3,000 or more," Barden said. "It would probably be less than $3,000 per year."

Director Justin Huss asked how the commission would change the way finances are handled and Barden said he's not sure yet.

"That's where we're going to sit down and discuss that," Barden said.

Featherstone said he wasn't ready to take any action on the issue yet but would be open to having a special called meeting dedicated to finances. The commission agreed, planning a special called meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the Harmon Park office.

Also at the meeting, commissioner Christian Super presented information on the Lake Leatherwood Enhancement Project. Super said the commission is heading into phase two of the project, saying the mitigation project led by Chris Fischer will be complete at the end of the year.

"This is an extension of that," Super said. "The idea is to bring education and interpretation to the Miner's Rock area with a focus on these areas Chris has identified. This has been presented to members of the trails committee and carries their endorsement."

Fischer said the second phase of the project would focus on six spots surrounding the Miner's Rock trail loop.

"What I'd like to do is take a detailed look at these six spots to figure out how the mapping and panels should be organized, Fischer said, "and come back to your guys and the trails committee as soon as we can to advance this project."

The commission moved on to discuss city gardener Scott Miskiel's proposed garden plan, with Miskiel saying there's no need to call it a garden master plan.

"We should have a plan that the gardeners are responsible for implementing and maintaining," Miskiel said. "It's what plants go where and what we call it well, I don't have a preference."

Commissioner Steven Foster suggested naming it the Spring and Garden Planting Guidelines.

"What we're basically doing, from a policy standpoint, is codifying a move from the selection of general horticultural material to a preference toward selection of native plant materials," Foster said.

Foster moved to accept the plan and put it on the commission's website, and the commission unanimously agreed to do so.

In other business, the commission approved the volunteer program guidelines, took no action on the third quarter financials and deferred a discussion on committee rules.

The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, at The Auditorium.

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