Cities should share finances with legislators

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Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, were given written and verbal reports Monday from Jasper city officials about the city's finances. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has had good revenue and reserves. It was the fourth consecutive year that legislators were brought in for a report. 

An attached copy of the written report can be found with our story, "Legislators get report on Jasper finances," at www.mountaineagle.com. 

"We think it is extremely important our legislative delegation know what we are doing good or bad. So we ask them to come here," O'Mary said, adding everything in the reports is documented.

"For the first four months of operation, the General Fund is operating with excess revenue over expenditures of $2,713,000," the report said. Sales tax gross collections, which were $14.7 million in 2017, rose to $16.2 million in 2020, and are projected to be $16.9 million in 2021. 

Both Rowe and Reed were impressed, adding it makes is easier to know how to approach local needs as they arise because they know the the city's finances. 

"I just cannot imagine a healthier report card for a municipality," Rowe said, adding she can "buy into what the City of Jasper is trying to do" as she is motivated help. "It appears they are doing an excellent job of minding the city coffers. That is the kind of train you want to get on board with," she said.

O'Mary offered a thought about the annual report that we have to agree with.

"I wish other governmental entities would do the same thing," he said. "You ought to play your hand, whatever it is. Taxpayers are entitled to know what is going on. We've talked about transparency from the day we got here, and we've lived that." He added a lot of other governments would benefit from doing the same thing.

That is true. First of all, the cities themselves would benefit, as Carbon Hill is looking at all of its accounting procedures and have come up with some ideas that make the process more transparent for everyone. (And lets not forget other cities are getting good audits, such as the one Dora recently revealed.) Certainly, it would benefit city officials and citizens to have this report. 

Also, the day comes when you do have to approach legislators. We can recall when the Walker County Commission had to approach legislators when its finances were rough. Legislators had to be caught up with its finances, and they then helped set up a ballot initiative, albeit one that failed. But the point is that to take action, it helps for legislators to have such a report. 

We suggest all area municipalities and counties  sit down with their legislators (and even possibly county legislators whose districts don't touch but will be needed for local legislative support). During this meeting, the city can review the finances, have a short report prepared (Jasper's was only a half dozen pages) and also discuss their goals and dreams for the year. 

For that matter, we would also urge legislators to seek out such meetings, as we've known legislators across the state who didn't want to give the time of day to their county commission or cities as they were too busy advancing their careers. The truth is, we think many municipalities and county governments would love to have that time with legislators to let them know what is going on and maybe to seek solutions with everyone sitting around the table, instead of one commissioner or councilman running across a legislator at the grocery store. 

In the meantime, we do congratulate O'Mary, City Clerk Kathy Chambless and all the employees within Jasper's government for their contributions to making the government run so efficiently. That is not easy to do some days, as it means doing without some desired equipment or operation - some of which is hopefully just deferred until another day. And it certainly has not be easy with the pandemic, although many citizens deserve praise for continuing to patronize local restaurants and businesses, even if it means curbside pickup or buying gift certificates. 

The result of all this effort is that the citizens are seeing any number of improvements, such as the road pavings we are seeing on city streets, as well as funds to handle emergencies. We are proud that this city - and other cities, such as Carbon Hill and Dora - are taking a role in being transparent, keeping finances in excellent order or improving them to that state. Let's hope we can continue this as the effects of the pandemic subsides. 

- Daily Mountain Eagle