CMR chief: 'Nobody really knows how much money the agency really has'

CMR chairman: Total budget for DMR is uncertain

jphampton@sunherald.comMay 21, 2013 

BILOXI -- The Department of Marine Resources has $117,250 in its budget for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a report by its director of administrative services Tuesday at the Commission on Marine Resources meeting.

It took Tom Doster less than a minute to deliver that economic news.

CMR Chairman Vernon Asper obviously wanted to hear more about the budget.

"As a member of the public, I'm sure there are a lot of people who have a lot of questions about this," Asper said. "I want to make just a few comments. First of all, the numbers Tom is showing are not the total funding to the agency. The total funding to the agency would include federal grants as well as state funds. The other thing is we're undergoing an audit at this time. We're halfway through it.

"We hope by next month we are going to have a more complete report on exactly how much money the agency really has, where it is, how it's been used how it's been allocated -- where we stand financially."

Asper promised the public would get a more detailed picture in the near future.

Until then, he said, "nobody really knows how much money the agency really has."

Commissioners get a more detailed report, which wasn't provided to the public.

"There were a lot of parenthesis in that report," said Asper, suggesting a lot of deficit spending.

A month ago, the agency had a balance of $695,150, according to the minutes of the April CMR meeting, which suggests the agency spent at least $577,900 in the last month. The agency has a little more than a month left in this fiscal year.

But DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said that doesn't mean the agency is running out of money.

"I think we clearly have enough money to make it through the year," he said.

"This budget is a self-imposed budget that says … here's how much money we want to spend as an agency. We are going to budget to spend that much money. It doesn't reflect the actual cash balance. It's just like a family and here's how much money we have in a checking account and we're not going to budget to zero. You're going to spend less than what you have, less than the total amount you have."

Miller agreed officials don't know exactly how much money is left and called the budget being used now a "false economy."

"It was a legacy of the previous administration and what I am trying to do is get away from that false economy and more accurately reflect what our true expenses are and making sure our budget and all our finances and expenses are understood better."

Like Asper, Miller said he hopes Horne LLP, the CPA firm trying to straighten out the finances, will enable him to report a clearer picture of DMR spending by the June 19 meeting.

"Going into July 1, I hope we'll be able to more accurately reflect what our budget should look like in terms of dollars," he said. "And then we'll set a course to live within that budget.

"But if we don't come out with a clearer way of understanding this, then I have failed."

John Fitzhugh, Sun Herald photographer, contributed to this report.

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