With comments from two candidates
Williamston Councilman and candidate for mayor Dr. R. Mack Durham disagrees with the assessment of Mayor Carthel Crout in a recent news story published in The Journal. In the article published Aug. 8 “Williamston Finances Under Scrutiny” Crout said that certain members of council attended nine hours of training on governmental finances and budgeting but some members of council still do not understand the process.
Dr. Durham, responding to the article said this week that “if anyone has a proven lack of understanding of how the budget works, it is Mayor Crout and our current Administrator.”
Durham said that he is greatly concerned and angered by excess expenditures in all departments that are over budget and that there is a lack of supervision in the expenditures.
Durham said that after council sets and approves the budget, the administration has the responsibility of maintaining operation within the budgeted amount. If unable to do so, the administration is required to bring requests for any increase to council.
“No requests have come before Council to ask for or explain these extreme departmental over expenditures,” he said.
He also said that when contracts or agreements are negotiated, they must be approved by council to be funded. “No such contracts or agreements have come before Council,” Durham said.
Durham also said that a weakness for council in bringing issues to the public’s attention is that council operates without operational rules. And because of this, the mayor is allowed to control the agenda, and only have items he deems appropriate be discussed, he said.
Durham was referring to a recent council meeting in which Councilman Mike Looper was not allowed to respond to statements made during public comments. Councilman Durham made a motion to allow discussion but the motion was defeated.
Durham also said the mayor has attempted to impede his inquiries during the process of examining the town’s financial state but offered no specifics.
Durham also said that even though the town still has revenues coming in, the administration is over budget in almost every department. “It is this type of thinking that leads to high water bills, high sewer rates and extra service fees,” he said.
Mayor Carthel Crout said this week that the town budget “is an educated estimation” and that some line items may be over budget.
“We have some line items over the anticipated budgeted, which is an estimation, but it is not a deficit.”
Crout said that the town’s financial advisor Boyd Green advises on the budget and that what they are doing “is within budgetary laws.”
“We follow the guidelines of our government accounting advisor to the budget and our auditors,” Crout said.
Crout said that individual line items are not brought back to council for approval if overbudget but if there was something that would cause the town a deficit it would be brought to council.
“We are not required to come to council when a line item is overbudget. As long as we stay within our anticipated revenues and anticipated expenditures, we do not have to bring it back to council,”Crout said.
The mayor said that recent purchase of the Milliken property and the construction of restrooms at Brookdale were examples of two things that were not in the budget, but were brought before council and approved.
“If they would come into the office and talk with us, they would have a better understanding of what we are doing.”
Crout said that the strong mayor form of government gives the mayor authority on agenda and other matters and he has asked councilmen to provide information in advance about items they want placed on the agenda for council discussion.
“Council operates under the rules included in the handbook provided by the Municipal Association of South Carolina. If he is not happy with the rules we operate under, he can put it on the agenda and we will rewrite the rules,” Crout said.
Crout said neither he nor town employees have kept information from councilmen or the public.
“In no way have I kept a councilmember or a resident from information they have requested.” Crout said Durhams statement that he has impeded inquiries is “Not true.”
“He has every right to see any file or record he has asked for or wants. We have not impeded in any way.”
Crout said that since he has served as mayor, the town has not experienced a budget deficit, has not had to borrow money to balance the budget and that all audits have received the highest rating possible.
“We haven’t had to borrow any money and we pay cash for our purchases,” he said.