In North Platte, we recently had a demonstration of the best workings of local government. Our Quality Growth Fund Citizens Review Committee and Mayor Dwight Livingston’s administration have publicly, honestly and transparently implemented a fix of the city’s handling of the QGF money. The solution will bring treatment of those funds into compliance with state statute by depositing them into a segregated bank account completely separate from other city funds.
At a City Council work session in May, the certified public accountant hired by the city to perform its annual audit reported that the city’s books, as of Sept. 30, 2018, indicated that $3.66 million of QGF monies were being used to cash-flow ever-present operating losses at Iron Eagle. That was quite a surprise to those of our fellow citizens who volunteer their service on the QGF Citizens Review Committee — particularly in light of the statutory requirement of Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 18-2718(1) that “the city shall not transfer or remove funds from the economic development fund other than for (allowed economic development purposes), and the money in the economic development fund shall not be commingled with any other city funds.”
Since then, the Review Committee has been doing exactly what that group charged with oversight of our town’s QGF should have done: making insistent, recurring inquiries of City Hall for an accounting of QGF dollars and insisting that those dollars be placed and maintained on deposit in an account separate from all other city funds. As reported in last Friday’s Telegraph, Thursday’s meeting of the QGF Committee included a presentation by City Finance Director Dawn Miller that explained the calculation of current dollars in the QGF account — nearly $4 million including accrued interest — and the process to be used to place those funds in a segregated account. The city’s next fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and will include transfers, as provided for by applicable statutes, from Municipal Light and Water and the Community Development Block Grant. Those transfers will provide the dollars to fund the QGF depository account, which will bring City Hall’s handling of those funds into compliance with state law.
This is a success of local governance; City Hall and the QGF Citizens Review Committee are to be commended. Previously, North Platte’s QGF dollars had not been on deposit in a separate account as required by the economic development law. This oversight was disclosed by an annual audit — which is one of the reasons for doing those audits, to find problems just like this one. Volunteer citizens serving on the Review Committee worked with city administration to rectify the situation. The solution was explained in detail at a public meeting and reported on the front page of the local newspaper. The handling of these public dollars was brought into statutory compliance in a transparent and open fashion, in keeping with the highest ideals of self-governance and fully deserving of the trust and appreciation of citizens.
In any complex undertaking, mistakes are inevitable, no matter how much diligence is exercised. In government, it is ultra-important that mistakes are acknowledged and addressed, publicly and openly. There is nothing more toxic to public trust than the perception that a governmental blunder is allowed to continue without review or reconsideration.
Which brings us back full circle to the Iron Eagle operating losses that played a part in bringing to light the shortcomings of past handlingof the QGF dollars.
It is time for the North Platte City Council to thoroughly reexamine how the Iron Eagle Golf Course fits into the city’s recreation vision and budget. Roughly $250,000 of public funds is spent annually to subsidize golf at Iron Eagle in a town that has three privately operated courses and many demands on public recreation dollars. Council member Ty Lucas tried to get the council to discuss putting continued spending of taxpayer dollars at Iron Eagle on the ballot for a public vote. Only Ed Rieker and Jim Carman supported Lucas’ efforts, one member short of what is needed to force that discussion.
Perhaps a ballot issue is too aggressive an approach, but refusing to discuss Iron Eagle is poor governance. The course was promoted as something that would generate revenues to cover its expenses; 25-plus years of experience have proved beyond question the error of that projection. On Iron Eagle, the City Council and administration would do well to follow the lead of the QGF Committee: publicly, honestly and transparently address the issue.