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Under the Radar: Late statements, wrong numbers

Officials: Health issues hinder timely reporting

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

ROCK FALLS – Townships are required to publish their annual financial statements in a newspaper.

Coloma Township has been late doing so in recent years – and has made key mistakes when it has printed the information.

For its 2009 and 2011 financial statements, it reported that it had received the same amount of property taxes  – $99,963 – for its town fund. In 2010, it received just $21 more – $99,984.

"I can't imagine it would stay the same for 2 years," Whiteside County Treasurer Darlene Hook said. “The chances are slim."

Interest and miscellaneous income were also exactly the same amounts for all 3 years. That also was the case for miscellaneous spending – $61,777, among many other similarities. 

No such problems were found in the 2012 statement. 

The statements from 2009 to 2011 were published late, between April and August 2012.

'I don't like to make excuses'

In an interview with Sauk Valley Media, Coloma Township Supervisor Debra Burke said she was unaware of the similarities between the published statements. They were errors, she said.

That is on top of other financial reporting problems in Coloma Township. It is the only government entity in Whiteside County that hasn't turned in its annual financial report to the state comptroller's office. It hasn't done so for the past 3 years. The 21 other townships have done so, all but one of which are smaller in population. 

Burke acknowledged the problem. 

"I have had some health issues," she said. "I have had three major surgeries. I don't like to make excuses. But there are things that have happened that caused the delays."

Only she could perform the financial duties involved, she said. 

In a message posted to Sauk Valley Media's website, Burke said that after the township printed its financial report for 2010, it discovered that the information was from 2009. The computer that generated the information, though, had labeled it as 2010.

"I'm sorry that human and machine errors created this problem," Burke wrote. "It's only in making sure the information is correct that delays have occurred."

Rock Falls-based Coloma Township, with a population of more than 10,000, has received warnings from the comptroller to turn in its annual reports. And the agency noted that it could assess fines for the delays, Burke said.

"They understand where we are with it," she said.

The township expects to turn in its annual reports soon, she reported.

Sauk Valley Media wrote stories about this problem in March and October.

The township also has been late to turn in its required certificates of publication to the county, which prove that it has published its financial statements in the newspaper. Once a certificate is submitted, the treasurer's office distributes property tax revenue to a township.

In September 2012, the treasurer's office released more than $400,000 in withheld property taxes to Coloma Township after the township submitted its certificates for 2009, 2010 and 2011. That money made up parts of three fiscal years. 

It was unusual for an entity to wait that long to turn in its certificates, County Treasurer Hook said. 

So how did Coloma survive without a key source of revenue for so long?

The township had enough money on hand to pay its bills, Burke said. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, the township received no property tax revenue because of the problem. It used nearly its entire balance in the main township fund, leaving about $5,400 for the next year.

Does that mean the township could cut taxes?

The township keeps its tax levies as low as possible, she said, and hasn't increased its rate for the main township fund for years.

'Then people start waking up'

As of May 1, the state comptroller's office got the authority to start penalizing entities that don't comply with reporting requirements. If those fines had been imposed for Coloma Township, they could have amounted to more than $3,000.

Mike Dropka, the comptroller's spokesman, said his agency aims to work with entities.

"When we don't get any answers, we start imposing fees," he said. "Then people start waking up."

As for Coloma Township, Burke said she has found a solution to the problems. If she is sick, she said, the township will have backup.

"We're trying to remedy this, so that I'm not the only one to do it," she said. "This shouldn't be an issue anymore."

Peggy McFadden, a township trustee who started a few months ago, said she has been sitting with the township's auditor in recent days to try to understand the finances.

"They're only auditing last year's accounts, but we all agree the audit needs to go back further," McFadden said. "[Burke] has been very cooperative. She does need to get caught up on all this stuff. When she gets through this sickness, she can get up to date."

A look at the books

Without any property tax revenue for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, Coloma Township had to use what money it had on hand and other revenue. Here's a look at the town and road funds for that year:

Town fund

Revenue: $127,524

Expenditures: $122,112

Ending balance: $5,412

Road fund

Revenue: $167,050

Expenditures: $39,663

Ending balance: $127,387

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