Joint workshop: Parks commission streamlining accounting, director says

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs Parks Commission is working to clean up its accounting process.

At a joint workshop between the parks commission and the Eureka Springs City Council on Monday night, parks director Justin Huss answered several questions related to the commission's finances. Council member Bob Thomas kicked off the workshop by asking how many bank accounts the commission has, and Huss said there are three accounts including a money market account for Lake Leatherwood City Park.

Thomas asked how the commission handles tax dollars when the funds are deposited into the parks bank accounts. Huss said the commission has historically paid for human resources expenses through the general fund, which is subsidized with a set amount each year that's "well below what we spend on human resources at Lake Leatherwood."

"You have staff that's full time at Lake Leatherwood?" Thomas asked.

"We have full-time seasonal employees," Huss said. "We don't have full-time staff."

When the tax dollars come in, Thomas asked if the funds are automatically divided into the separate accounts. The commission hasn't done that in the past, Huss said, but that will change as the commission works with Windle & Associates to streamline the accounting process.

"We'll be doing that more, especially this year," Huss said.

Thomas asked if it's clear in the commission's ledger how the 0.125 percent tax is spent.

"Generally, yes," Huss said. "The newer forms we're working on with our CPA it's clearer. Money is appropriated where it's appropriate."

"The main thing is can it be tracked?" Thomas asked.

"It can be," Huss said. "With the former accounting processes, we were getting that in one lump sum from the city and trying to divide it up was a challenge. Now, those taxes are coming in separately to those separate accounts so any movement will be much more trackable."

Thomas switched gears to ask about the downhill mountain bike project at Lake Leatherwood City Park, saying the parks commission agreed to spend $50,000 toward the project.

"We didn't spend any prior to ... construction at all," Huss said. "There was none of that."

Council member Harry Meyer asked if that money was just something the commission budgeted for and Huss said the commission eventually spent the money on the project.

"It is our match," Huss said. "It was ultimately spent on the shuttle turnaround below and signage well after general construction was complete."

Thomas then asked about the parks master plan.

"I asked how you made changes to the master plan and you said they just happen all the time, that parks approves changes to the master plan," Thomas said. "Is that correct?"

"That's an interpretation, yeah," Huss said.

"Well, I want to interpret the way you interpret," Thomas said.

Huss said the master plan is an "ongoing living document" and is meant to serve as guidance for the commission. It's not a binding document, Huss said.

"We've created the capital improvement plan since I've been here and prioritize projects each year," Huss said. "I'd offer that's a step of a master plan vs. a formal one."

The commission continues to work on the master plan, Huss said.

"We're a very small agency. We're not Bentonville," Huss said. "We can't create a 200-page document that costs a quarter of a million dollars. That's what a professionally produced master plan costs."

A "cheap, in-house" master plan would cost $50,000, Huss said. With the commission's revenue down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Huss said, it doesn't make sense to spend any extra money right now.

Huss then took questions from council member Melissa Greene, who said there was no differentiation between the 0.125 percent sales tax and the 0.25 percent sales tax in previous ledgers.

"Is the new accounting going to have that?" Greene asked.

"I wouldn't say that was an accurate statement to start with," Huss said. "It was not deposited separately, but it was always fully accounted for. They were always accounted for separately."

Greene said the parks ledger includes money spent on the downhill trails at Lake Leatherwood before the property was given to the commission and Huss reiterated that the 0.125 percent sales tax was used for the shuttle turnaround and signage.

"That's what it was spent for and we can certainly go back through the records to look for that," Huss said.

"That's probably one of the questions I get asked the most," Greene said.

"We've answered that question numerous times and some people just don't like the answer," Huss said.

The commission has only $26,000 to spend on maintenance for the entire parks system for the rest of the year, Huss said, which will be cut in half once the commission spends $14,000 to remove four trees.

"When you're saying $14,000 to remove four trees, that's a lot of money," Greene said.

"It is and we generally spend $10,000 to $15,000 a year on tree removal," Huss said.

Meyer asked how much the new accounting system costs the commission and Huss said the commission is negotiating that number. The commission expects to spend between $500 and $600 each month on accounting services, Huss said.

"The accounting will solve a lot of questions and problems," Meyer said.

"Absolutely," Huss said. "I'm going to post [the financials] every month. We're generally really proud of them and still proud of them considering what we've faced this year."

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