An accounting error in the City of Norman’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget drew confusion from the public and the dais at the Tuesday night Norman City Council meeting, but the city’s finance director provided The Transcript the explanation for how it happened.

The mistake was chalked up to a human error: Combining two projected expense categories in the city’s fire department budget for salary and overtime, Financial Services Director Anthony Francisco said Friday.

The calculation meant it appeared there was less money available in the general fund for other projects the council expressed its intent to fund — namely, a mobile crisis unit. An MCU would answer non-emergency calls and respond to residents experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis.

A proposed amendment on the Tuesday meeting agenda, discussed since May 20 during finance committee and council study session meetings, read:

“Decrease Fire Department Allocations in the General Fund by $841,486 and in the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund by $220,109 and reduce General Fund Transfer to the Public Safety Sales Tax (PSST) Fund by $220,109.”

Francisco described in an email a data entry error between two systems.

“The fire department has special categories of overtime payments because of their 24-hour work shifts,” his email reads. “So, in addition to the “regular” processes for loading salaries and benefits within the budget system, there is a separate system, tracked within our finance department/payroll accounting division, that prepares projections of the fire department overtime allocations (this process takes into account the 24-hour shifts and projected special holiday overtime costs, which are paid at a higher rate).

“At the time the City Manager’s Proposed Budget was prepared in late March and presented to the City Council beginning on April 6, we had inadvertently loaded projected fire department overtime allocations into the budget system based on the fiscal year 2020-2021 (prior year) allocations pre-loaded into the budget system, AND the projected fiscal year 2021-2022 payroll projections.

“The result of this “double counting” was an over-allocation to fire overtime accounts in the FYE 2022 City Manager’s Proposed Budget of $1,061,595 (a total of $841,486 in the various fire department overtime accounts in the general fund, and $220,109 in the Fire Suppression Division overtime account in the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund).”

The reason the error affected both the general fund and the PSST fund is because some overtime allocations are budgeted in both funds.

“Our Budget Manager Kim Coffman discovered the error shortly after the city manager’s budget began to be presented to the council in the series of public study session meetings that began on April 6,” Francisco said. “The only way to make changes that have financial impact to the city manager’s proposed budget once it has been presented to the council is through a formal council amendment.”

The correction via amendment, which passed Tuesday, allowed the council to allocate $500,000 for an MCU from the general fund instead of taking the money from the Norman Police Department, The Transcript reported Wednesday.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at [email protected] or 405-416-4420.