Williamston finances under scrutiny

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Election issue?

By David Meade – During the Williamston Town Council meeting Monday, Phillip Clardy raised questions about the town finances, stating that statements posted on the town website show the town is more that $369,000 over budget for 2011-12 year ended in June.

A look at the June statement shows that the town is $132,460 over budget in Administration Expense; $92,038 over in Administrative salaries; $84,089 over in street salaries and $114,881 over in police salaries.

However, Town Administrator Phyllis Lollis said that the statement is a snapshot of the town’s finances and the year end figures can and will change as updates are made to close out the fiscal year. Lollis said allocation of some expenses, such as salaries and legal fees, to other departments make up a bulk of the amounts in question.

When those adjustments are made and final revenues added, the budget will be much more in line, according to Lollis.

Lollis said the budget may be over by approximately $150,000, however some revenues are still not showing in the figures.

Revenues that are not reflected in the statement include franchise fees, (from Duke Energy and Fort Hill) which have just come in, and amount to more than $100,000; local government funds and some property taxes.

Town treasurer Michelle Starnes said that the year end figures councilmen and the former mayor are looking at have to be adjusted to accurately reflect expenses.

Starnes said that administrative salaries are currently listed in the general fund expenses, but will be spread over the water and sewer fund budget, reducing the amount showing as overbudget. Some legal fees in the general budget will also be reallocated to the water and sewer funds.

Starnes said the practice is common and that the accounting procedures the town uses are recommended by the town’s financial advisor Boyd Greene. The town’s actual financial status will be more accurately reflected when the year end audit is finished, she said.

Greene is currently working with the town preparing the financials for the upcoming audit which will be conducted by Finney, Greene and Horton. The yearly audit is required by law and will be presented to the town and available to the public when it is finished, probably in September.

During the council meeting Clardy brought up the issue and said that administration and police budgets were the two areas most over budget.

He asked Council “not to make budget adjustments for a clean audit.” Councilman Mike Looper asked to make comments but was not allowed to.

Mayor Carthel Crout said dialog between the mayor, council and the public are not allowed during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Councilman Mack Durham made a motion to suspend the rules of procedure to allow Looper to speak, however the vote was 2 for and 3 opposed to the motion.

After the meeting Crout said he would be glad to discuss the finances of the Town and that the councilmen could address the issue in a meeting by having it placed on the agenda prior to the meeting, along with supporting documents. He also added that members of council attended nine hours of training on governmental finances and budgeting earlier in the year, but some members of council still do not understand the process.

Councilman Durham said Tuesday that there is a communication problem beween the administration and council. Durham said he has concerns about the town’s finances being overbudget “as far as we are” and not receiving “much of an explanation.”

According to Durham almost all of the departments are over budget.

The administrator did say that the police department will be overbudget for 2011-12.

Lollis said that adding a new clerk of court as a full time position and hiring of a codes enforcement officer are reflected in the police budget.

Both positions were approved by council, but they were not funded in the previous budget, she said.

Separation of duties by adding the clerk of court position was one of the recommendations made in last year’s audit, she said.

The codes enforcement position was not funded because the previous codes officer was deployed to the Middle East and the position was kept open until he returned, according to Lollis. Upon returning from deployment, Lollis said the officer left the position creating a vacancy.

Additional officers have also been hired to bring the department up to full force, the Administrator said.

Lollis also said that maintenance and expenses to get some older vehicles on the road and related fuel costs are also reflected in the overage. Health insurance costs and new computer servers which cost $27,000 are also part of the police department expenses, she said.

Both Councilman Durham and former mayor Phillip Clardy have recently announced they are running for the office of mayor of Williamston.