Knowing the balance of your bank account is financial responsibility 101. Without tracking expenses and knowing your budget, it is very hard to make sound financial decisions -- but worse, money can easily get lost. That is a lesson that parents pass to children when they get their first debit card as teenagers.
The City of Philadelphia somehow missed that lesson. Almost a year ago, the city’s 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), flagged a $33 million discrepancy in the city’s books because of failure of the Office of Treasurer and Department of Finance to properly reconcile accounts. Last week, with the help of a private accounting firm that the city hired for $500,000, almost all the money was finally accounted for.
Last April, Councilmember Allan Domb raised the issue when he noticed the discrepancy in the city’s report. Domb pointed out that without proper accounting of funds, money could have been stolen and no one would have ever found out. And in a city hit with one corruption scandal after another -- the latest being Former Nutter Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell who is charged with theft by state prosecutors, which followed the bribery convictions of a string of state lawmakers, which followed a District Attorney now serving jail time for bribery -- the concern is legitimate.
To balance the books, the Mayor convened a Reconciliation Task Force and hired Center City accounting firm Horsey, Buckner & Heffler LLP to expedite the process. By November, $21 million out of the $33 was accounted for; last week, the firm said that the majority of the money has been accounted for, with $528,000 still missing.
In June, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart released a report pointing out reconciliation issues of the city going back to 2010. The Controller recommended that the City formalize in writing a reconciliation procedure that includes documentation and that it devote necessary resources that reconciliation is done in a timely fashion.
The city promised to make changes following a list of recommendations from the Horsey report, including beefing up policies and procedures and putting them in writing. In describing its findings, though, the Horsey report, offered an impression of a department in need of more than a few tweaks. For example, it noted that the masses of paper documents and records lacked a clear system for filing or tracking who had those files. That required employees to spend time searching for documents.