NRoute audits ‘clean,’ director tells board

Published 11:58 am Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A preliminary report of independent audits conducted on the NRoute bus system returned a long-awaited positive opinion, officials said Tuesday.

Jackson accounting firm Banks, Finley, White & Co., which had been hired by the City of Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen in October, issued an “unqualified opinion,” or clean audits, for NRoute’s books in 2008 and 2009, the years for which the city sought reviews before releasing any of this fiscal year’s $135,000 allocation for the system.

“The books are clean,” Executive Director Evelyn Bumpers told NRoute’s five-member Transportation Commission Tuesday. “This is the best audit that an agency can get. There were no financial issues or misuse of funds. There’s nothing going on that shouldn’t have been going on.”

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Initially, city officials said they would hold the $135,000 allocation until the audits were complete. But on Oct. 28, while the audits were under way, the City Board voted 2-1 to disburse the allocation in 12 monthly installments of $11,250 so NRoute could meet its monthly payroll expenses.

On Tuesday night, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who voted against the monthly allocation, said he had not seen the audit report.

However, he said, “I’m not surprised a bit. I never thought anything illegal was going on.”

Bumpers said the accounting firm listed in the report “minor managerial suggestions” that NRoute would need to address before an official report is released.

Suggestions include stamping an invoice after it has been paid and signing meeting minutes following a commission meeting, among other similar proposals, she said.

An official report will be released in about two weeks, after Bumpers makes a written address to the accounting firm.

Mayor Paul Winfield also said he would like to review an official report by the auditing agency.

“I’m committed to public transit,” he said. “The city will also have recommendations to the agency in addition to the auditor’s recommendations.”

The board, in the absence of Beauman, voted Sept. 30 to pay for the audits, which cost about $5,700 each, because NRoute said it did not have the funds to do so.

The city’s funding of NRoute had decreased from $225,000 in fiscal year 2008-09 to about $160,000 last fiscal year.

City funding now accounts for about 17 percent of NRoute’s $781,000 annual budget and about two-thirds of that comes from federal and state allocations. Fares account for 7.5 percent and about 5 percent comes from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

The transit system was operating $96,000 in the red at the end of last fiscal year, but two months into the new fiscal year with three service cuts the system is operating in the black, Bumpers said.

The system’s current net income is $836.26.

Bumpers has said before service cuts of two of the seven routes and a Saturday run would save the cash-strapped agency about $90,000.

Ridership decreased from 3,470 in October to 2,748 in November, thus decreasing fare revenue.

In other business, NRoute’s $50,000 purchase service agreement with Warren-Yazoo Mental Health to transport members of the Milestone Club House to and from the Wisconsin Avenue facility was delayed about a month because of a lack of qualified bus drivers.

Bumpers said two applicants declined job offers because of offers from other employers.

Currently, the system is seeking drivers for the route for four days a week.

WYMH had obtained a $40,000 grant by the Mississippi Department of Transportation with a $10,000 match by the agency to use for transporting clients.

The $50,000 flat-fee that was being paid to NRoute in the original agreement was changed to a cost-per-person fare of $4.50 per person.

Also on Tuesday, the transportation commission voted to decline the offer of two trolleys through MDOT as part of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act stimulus program.

The trolleys were to be used as charter vehicles, which would result in a revenue stream for NRoute, but the commission decided against that because of tough state charter regulations.

NRoute began operations in June 2006 as a department of the city, but became an independent utility in February 2007.