DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.,None - Channel 2 Action News has learned Dekalb County's cash shortage was so severe last year that county officials spent $40 million in money designated for green space projects.
Dekalb's chief financial officer told Channel 2's Richard Belcher it was a mistake that won't be repeated, but county commissioners aren't happy.
Nothing was stolen, but there is no disputing that bond money should not have been spent on county operations. One county commissioner even calls it illegal. Either way, it's a clear measure of just how cash-strapped the county had gotten.
Dekalb County produced a video about its parks and green space program. The parks and greenspace program was paid for by bond money voters approved in 2001 and in 2006 -- nearly a quarter of a billion dollars borrowed for those specific purposes -- and nothing else.
But last year, the county said it discovered that $40 million in bond money had been improperly spent. DeKalb CFO Joel Gottlieb said he stopped the improper spending as soon as he discovered it.
“It was an inadvertent mistake and unavoidable, but now, it will be corrected and not repeated,” Gottlieb told Belcher.
Gottlieb said the problem arose because DeKalb County pooled all of its funds in a single, state-managed account. When the county's cash flow problems went from bad to worse last year, bond money that should been kept entirely separate was mistakenly used for salaries and other routine operating expenses.
Critics said the mistake is not trivial.
“The administration has been working on it, but we don't believe it's sufficient,” said County Commissioner Lee May.
May is chair of the county commission's finance committee and a regular critic of CEO Burrell Ellis.
“We've got to have segregated accounts so that when the public says, ‘How much is in the parks bond fund?’ or whatever fund we're looking at, that we can tell them exactly what the dollar amount is,” May said.
It isn't clear exactly who authorized the series of decisions that resulted in DeKalb spending $40 million in bond money on county operations. But Gottlieb said accounts are now set up in such a way that it will not happen again.