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Camden Local Government

Camden County Govt. explains overdrafts of 44 checks

Did the county have 44 overdrawn checks?

At Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, Camden County’s finance department explained allegations of 44 overdrawn checks from the county’s investment funds.

An email was sent to local media outlets on Monday, with records, showing NSF fees of 44 checks that allegedly overdrawn from the county’s investment fund, particularly the Georgia 1 Fund.

The situation:

In June, Camden officials transferred $1 million from our Georgia 1 Fund investment account to cover FY2018 expenditures. On July 5, Camden officials transferred in an additional $500,000 to pay FY2019 bills and payroll. About a week later, the County transferred in $130,000 from the “Employee Health Account” to cover what former CFO Mike Fender referred to as a “Bank had overdrawn $115,000″, according to documents.

The overdraft was $118,894.61, and with $1,400 in overdraft fees for the 44 checks. At the same time, the CFO reported that the General Fund had a negative $874,964.75  balance.

At the center of the issue was a letter dated October 30, 2018 from Southeastern Bank that stated the Camden County had “no overdrafts” with any checks or drafts that had been returned; however, the documents and the county’s presentation say differently.

County Administrator Steve Howard asked Gonzalez to conduct a financial review on Tuesday after the letter was made public by a reporter from AllOnGeorgia-Camden on the social media page, Tax Payers Against Spaceport Camden.  The page alleged there was a letter that was being withheld from the public and the reporter made it public.

The social media page alleged the county was mismanaging funds possibly related to Spaceport Camden’s expenditures. In addition, news outlets were given financial statements showing overdrawn checks from the investment accounts, which AllOnGeorgia previously had since August and were confirmed by the emails sent on Monday, Dec 10.

“There was a Facebook posting that talked about how I engaged with a cover-up with the public and that the county was in financial distress and in mismanagement,” said Camden County Administrator Steve Howard. “I call this fake gossip. Whoever wrote this should probably be in Hollywood and not on Facebook. They should be in Hollywood based on this news they made up and we will give you an overview of the facts.”

Within the presentation below, Gonzalez states that County had insufficient funds in its Pooled operating accounts for July 2018 and that former CFO, Mike Fender, moved some funds around from various investment accounts to avoid large overdrafts. This created a negative balance hence creating NSF charges, according to Gonzalez.

“This caused the bank to charge NSF fees, but no fees were returned. Subsequently, the bank issued a credit memo for those NSF fees,” stated Gonzalez.

According to Gonzalez’s information, the County had a negative balance of $21,000 on July 9 and $118,000 on July 10 from one of its investment funds. Instead of taking money from one of the unmatured investment funds, the former CFO used monies from other accounts connected to the general fund to place into those overdrawn accounts which corresponds to the documentation.

The county applied and was approved for a line of credit in May 2018 for $3 million which was used to sure up the county’s budget as the CFO anticipated the shortfall. Since October 2018, the $3 million line of credit has been paid back from recent revenue collections.

Below is the information presented by the county to the Board of Commissioners:

 

  • Between February and June 2018, Camden County CFO, Mike Fender invested $5.98 million of county funds in various interest-bearing accounts and investment securities with fixed maturity dates (bonds and certificates of deposit).

 

  • The length of these deposits/investments varied between 3 months and 6 months.

 

  • In July, it was determined that Camden County’s cash flow needs exceeded its available cash on hand (money not invested in the fixed maturity investment vehicles).

 

  • Camden County erroneously assumed it would incur an early withdrawal penalty for taking the money from these investment vehicles and it was determined that the interest on a short term line of credit would be less than the early withdrawal penalty on the fixed maturity date investments.

 

  • In order to minimize the use of the line of credit, Camden County transferred money from various county general fund checking accounts to the operating account.  In addition, the county utilized a “just in time” strategy that transferred the necessary cash to cover pending withdrawals to minimize the time money was borrowed from the line of credit. Additionally, all of the money borrowed from the line of credit has been repaid.

 

  • On two days in July, the Camden County General Fund fell into a negative balance.  While NSF fees are listed on the county’s bank statement for the checks processed on these days, no checks were returned for insufficient funds.   In addition, all of the NSF fees charged by the bank were refunded to the county.

 

  • To be clear, at no time did Camden County “bounce” any checks and no public funds were used to pay NSF fees. 

 

  • Camden County’s cash flow issue was not due to a lack of capital.  Camden County had $5.98 million in various investment accounts, although this money was generally considered to be unavailable because of potential withdrawal penalties. It has since been determined that Camden County could have withdrawn from some of these investment vehicles without penalty.

 

  • Had the $3 million bond been cashed in on 7/6/18, the County would have lost interest revenue from that date to full maturity at 9/15/18 or $5,835.  If the $2 million bond was cashed in on 7/6/18, the County would have lost interest revenue from that date to full maturity at 9/18/18 or $7,603.

 

  • By tapping a line of credit for 35 days at 3% interest expense totaling $2,854 rather than cashing in a bond, it saved the county no less than $2,981.

 

Since the release of the October 30, 2018 letter from Southeastern Bank on Monday, the bank was asked again to generate another letter to clarify the October 30 letter which was released on December 11 (Tuesday). The letter states that the transfer of funds was a transfer timing issue, and not related to bounce checks but that the NSF fees, or overdraft fees, were reversed back to the county.

AllOnGeorgia-Camden asked Gonzalez for a copy of this transaction which shows the fees were reversed back. – see a picture of fees given back to the county.

At the end of the presentation on Tuesday, Gonzalez announced additional internal controls and communications concerning the movement of investment accounts moving forward.

  • A notification process will be initiated with Southeastern Bank to add notifications to the Commissioners, County Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and County Attorney, when the Pooled cash operating account drops below $100,000.

 

  • A notification process will be initiated with Multibank Securities, to add notifications to the Commissioners, Deputy Administrator, and County Attorney for any account activity.

 

  • Camden County Finance Department shall review all investment vehicles and document the fees and penalties associated with each. A report of these fees and penalties will be provided to the Commissioners, County Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and County Attorney upon any new investment.

Currently, the county’s financial policy states that the county finance director shall establish strategies and guidelines to maintain proper cash flow in all accounts. In addition, the county’s policy says that the county finance director should establish controls of when monies are being moved from one account to the next.

After the meeting, AllOnGeorgia asked Commissioner Gary Blount, an accountant by trade, about one of the financial policies and the October 30, 2018 letter.

The county has a financial policy known has the “prudent person rule” which states the following:

  • The investment officer shall use the “prudent person rule”. Investments shall be made with judgment and care, under circumstances then prevailing, which persons of prudence, discretion and intelligence exercise in the management of their own affairs.

“It would have been more prudent not to have put the $ 3 million in the bond fund. Granted, there was no harm done anywhere for any reason. It has not damaged or harmed our credit rating,” explained Blount. “No checks were ever returned and there was never a shortfall of money anywhere. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that a prudent person would have not done that knowing what was coming up.”

Blount explained that between July and October of each year that shortfalls are not uncommon.

AllOnGeorgia asked about the October 30th letter and why it was even written. Blount said he is not sure of why it was written but believes it was probably a customary process to inform as to when public funds are being used or moved possibly showing activity that could be questioned.

This financial discussion comes after the Public Service Authority Board has come under fire for the mismanagement and alleged embezzlement from the former executive director. Currently, two County Commission members sit on the PSA Board and citizens brought the issue to light asking for an explanation.

Presentation and analysis of funding transfers correlated to the NSF fees and the Dec. 11 letter from Southeastern Bank.

Camden County Analysis

Below is the entire meeting and the presentation is at the start of the video –

Camden County Commission Meeting 6pm : Insufficient funds, SPLOST 8 Approval with PSA & Cities

Posted by All On Georgia – Camden on Tuesday, December 11, 2018

 

 

 

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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