The mayor's office claims that the city will end the year with a $13 million surplus, even though the city's financial accounting software shows the city running a deficit.
In a committee meeting Thursday afternoon, Council President Carole Smitherman compared the mayor's numbers with believing in unicorns.
Doug Turner, an analyst hired by the council, says that deficit could be as much as $27 million. In a memo replying to Turner's questions, the mayor's chief of staff said that the $13 million surplus projection stands and that the city still has revenue coming in.
Strangely, the city's financial accounting software no longer allows either Turner nor the council's staff budget analyst Chaz Mitchell to access year-to-date data for 2009.
During the committee meeting Thursday, Councilor Valerie Abbott argued that the council shouldn't act on a budget without first knowing what the real numbers are, even if that requires a forensic audit.
"How can we pass a budget when we don't know how much money we've got?" she asked.
For more than an hour, the councilor's debated their options. On a white board, the council even had the option "Believe in Unicorns" in place of the mayor's budget.
After some tense exchanges and arguing past each other, a majority of the councilors voted to request a forensic audit and to continue operations for the time being under the 2009 budget.
Councilors Joel Montgomery, Roderick Royal and Jonathan Austin voted against the final resolution. Councilors Abbott, Smitherman, Carol Duncan, Steven Hoyt and Maxine Parker voted for it.
The financial disaster at Jefferson County obviously colored the council's deliberations.
"Heaven knows I don't want to be responsible for something like that," Councilor Abbott said.