Incoming CAO added to St. Martinville accounts

ST. MARTINVILLE — The St. Martin City Council is moving forward with work on the 2019-2020 budget even as accountants work to close out the last third of the previous year’s bookkeeping.

In a special meeting Monday afternoon, the council passed resolutions to add Avis Gutekunst, the incoming chief administrative officer and secretary-treasurer, to all of the city’s accounts and remove access for former CAO Shedrick Berard. Gutekunst began working Monday.

The council also changed its meeting dates for later this month, postponing its June 17 meeting a week until June 24.

“Our new CAO started working Monday, so we should have a much better idea on the 24th of what we are looking at for the 2020 budget,” said District 1 Councilman Mike Fuselier.

An accountant with Faulk and Winkler LLC has been working on the city’s books since mid April to reconcile the city’s accounts. So far, the records are up to date through the close of January, leaving five months of accounting to be done to close out the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The 2019-2020 budget must be adopted by June 30 unless the city gets an extension from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office. Kolder Slaven and Company, the city’s independent auditor, is putting together the proposed budget.

“Some of the numbers we are using seem a little inflated because we don’t have the actual numbers up to date,” Mayor Pro Tem Craig Prosper said. “I’d like us to budget more conservatively, then if the funds come in after we close those months we can adjust the budget accordingly.”

The dramatic exacerbation of the city’s financial issues stem from the short tenure of Berard in the CAO’s office. During that time, multiple financial issues arose, including multiple payroll issues, unpaid invoices, invoices being paid multiple times and records piling up in boxes with little or no organization. The cost of hiring Faulk and Winkler, as well as the enlistment of the internal auditing firm to create the 2019-2020 budget, has further stressed what was a very tight 2018-2019 budget.

Berard was hired at the insistence of Mayor Melinda Mitchell, against the advice of the city’s independent auditor.

Until the reconciliation of the neglected months’ books is completed, it is not clear what the city’s financial position will be at the close of its fiscal year.

The council introduced two ordinances Monday, one to amend the 2018-2019 budget and another to adopt the still-under-construction 2020 budget. Both will be considered at the meeting on June 24.

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