Town budget overages being questioned by councilmembers

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During the Williamston Town Council meeting Monday, Councilman Mack Durham and Councilman Mike Looper both expressed concerns about the the town’s finances while Mayor Carthel Crout defended the town’s budgeting and purchasing.

Both Councilmen pointed out discrepancies in spending and budgeting in the June 30 budget numbers. Councilman Looper said the numbers recently provided to him for June differ greatly from numbers provided several weeks ago.

“Some are over and some are under,” he said. “The new doesn’t agree with the old.”

He pointed out that parks and recreation was $3618 under budget on the first numbers he was given and now the line item is $44,900 over budget.

Looper pointed out several other line items which he said are overbudget including retirement, admin supplies, water which he said total to administration category being $84,000 over budget.

Mayor Crout said that there are still invoices and revenues coming in and that the town’s final audit is being conducted and will be presented in October.

Looper stated, “It doesn’t matter how much revenue you have come in,” he said. “We are responsible.”

Crout defended the budget numbers stating, “The budget is an estimation. It is what we think the budget will be. We do not have a deficit.”

Councilman Durham stated that the town is $349,000 over budget and the amount needed to cover that is coming “from reserves.”

During the discussion he said there are some communication problems between the town’s administration and council. “I think some problems could be avoided,” he said.

Durham talked about town codes, scope of duties as required by ordinances and certain things requiring approval by the mayor and the full council. He also stated that, “When we ask we should receive prompt and complete information.”

“There are communication problems and it is not happening,” he said. “This is leading to budget problems and operational ordinances not being followed. This is where we end up.”

According to Durham, figures he received show the town is as much as $1.25 million over budget.

“That is where we are. What concerns me even more is where we are headed.”

When pressed by Looper on specific administration overages, Mayor Crout said he couldn’t remember the exact list and would have to have it in front of him.

Looper again brought up a contract which he has repeatedly stated did not go before council.

According to Looper, the contract for operating the town’s updated sewer treatment plant cost the town $216,000 last year. He said the town budgeted $53,000 for the expense.

Councilman Durham said the administration has the responsibility to the people to bring the budget before council and that council, as representatives of the people, has the responsibility to approve it.

Durham said that if the budget changes, the administration should bring it to council and ask for more money.

“It undermines trust to spend and spend,” Durham said. “The administration should report to us.”

Councilman Tony Hagood said that the town had an open door policy on information and that on any questions, which he said “could be utilized on a daily basis.”

After apparently hearing enough, Mayor Crout said, “Councilman Durham, you have made accusations that I have spent more than $1.2 million over budget in expenditures not authorized by council. You have accuesd me of violating town policy. Within 7 days, please provide documented evidence of these policy violations. Where was all this money spent? For what? In what specific areas do you allege that we are ovebudget and by how much? Exactly what current town policy that is now in effect has been violated. Provide the ordinance code violation.”

Crout then told Durham to provide a copy to the town attorney and auditor as well as the mayor and fellow councilmen.

Durham responded that he does not have to provide evidence of his allegations.

“This is the first time you have talked to me about it,” Crout said, adding that he had not talked with Durham about it for over a year and a half.

Durham said he had not attempted to talk with the mayor directly for about a year and according to Crout, had instructed Crout to correspond with him in writing.

“You should understand the type of government we have, what ordinances we are following and that we are not following a state procurement policy but our own procurement policy,” Crout said.

Crout said that the town’s purchasing policy is being followed to the letter.

The mayor indicated that the issue was political stating, “You didn’t bring it up until you were running for mayor. You are making a political situation out of it.”

“As are you,”’ Durham responded.

Councilman Durham also indicated that the town was in violation of a policy that states the annual financial report should be brought to council within 60 days of the end of the fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Crout said that the town is under “the strong mayor form of government and we are following the policies set forth by council.”

Following the meeting Crout said the town is following the purchasing policy approved by council in 2009 and the advice of the town’s financial advisors.

“I will take the advice of our government advisor, who has over 40 years experience, and our town auditors before I take advice from Councilman Durham and Looper.”

In a followup interview on Tuesday, Durham clarified statements made during the council meeting on Monday.

He said, “The purchasing policy tells us how we spend the money. The budget is separate and determines how much we have to spend. The adminstration is obligated by ordinance to bring requests in the form of a budget to council for approval.”

He said that any possible overages should be brought back before council for any more monies to be approved.

In the only official action of the meeting Monday, Council unanimously approved a recommendation to request matching funds of $64,391from the C Funds for a SCDOT streetscape project for the town. The $257,564 streestcape project is phase II and will include improvements along West Main St. (Hwy. 20) in front of the Municipal Center and Mineral Spring Park. The project will include parking, a turn lane, shrubs, and sidwalk crossings.