Stimulus spenders get advice: ‘CYA and D’

VERONA – The government has a message to entities receiving federal stimulus money: We’re watching you.
Representatives from the Office of the State Auditor on Wednesday explained how the state and federal government will track spending of stimulus dollars through required reporting and random audits.
Recipients who fail to keep adequate records or follow regulations face a loss of funding and even fraud charges.
“Remember, CYA and D: Cover your assets and documents,” Ramona Williams, a state performance auditor, told dozens of people attending a free training session at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center.
The auditor’s office is presenting the workshops throughout the state through Sept. 16. Two were offered here Wednesday.
The two-hour session explained state and federal ARRA guidelines and the complex process that recipients must follow to report their spending.
Auditors officials said they want everyone to know the rules on the front end so they won’t have problems several months into the process.
“If we can prevent the fire from ever starting then we later on we’ll have something to be proud of,” said Samantha Atkinson, the office’s director of performance audit.
In attendance were representatives from entities that have applied for and received federal stimulus money made available through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. They included municipalities, county governments, nonprofit agencies, school districts, community colleges and planning and development districts.
“I’m going to have to plant 10 trees for all the paperwork I’m going to have to do to comply with this,” said Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson, one of about 60 people at the morning session.
Thompson said Lee County has received two stimulus grants totaling about $3 million out of the roughly $65 million wish list it submitted several months ago. One grant is for the expansion of the Renasant Center for IDEAs, the other is for the Sheriff’s Department.
Tupelo’s grant administrator, Terri Blissard, also attended the session but was familiar with the basics thanks to a 16-hour online course she took earlier.
“But had I not done that training, this information would be invaluable,” Blissard said.
Tupelo has received several ARRA grants, too, including to renovate the Tupelo Regional Airport, one for the Major Thoroughfare Program, one for some energy-efficiency projects and one for the Police Department to purchase equipment.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal