Folks I’ve been very busy all week in the day job but have monitored the slow motion financial meltdown of the City of Bay St Louis, a problem that has been literally years in the making.
Last year during the election then Mayoral candidate Jeff Harding had the city’s financial problems well identified. His claims were dismissed, buried in the re-election campaign of lies told by the Mayor Les Fillingame which contended the City was financially sound, a meme Hizzoner would keep repeating until late Spring of this year when he revealed the City would default on its Water and Sewer Bonds unless they were refinanced immediately, a move that left the City almost $200,000 further in debt. By that time, per the 2013 single audit report, the City’s Water and Sewer fund accumulated deficit was well over $400,000. The City has been broke for over a year.
Before the Mayor finally came somewhat clean on the financial problems in the Water and Sewer Fund, in January Slabbed did a detailed analysis of the reckless, irresponsible budget practices that got the City to this point. City spending on the Mayor’s friends and family program has ballooned while basic city services deteriorated. How many City Council meetings has the inability of the Grapple Truck to run a regular schedule been discussed since April? How management can say in MD&A in the 2013 audit that the City delivers a high level of City services goes well beyond imagination to sheer fantasy. The money leakage is multifaceted as Jennifer Lenain explains for today’s Sun Herald:
He also questioned the council on why the assistant police chief would be driving a city owned vehicle while she is out on vacation, sick leave or workers’ compensation. “I’m fed up that I’ll have a tax increase because of this,” he said.
Its worse though because the 2013 Single Audit report also disclosed that in June, 2014, over $97,000 in customer meter deposits were transferred from the meter deposit account into the Water and Sewer operating account. Based upon the cash balances at July 31, 2014 this money was certainly then expended on claims. Simply put, City spending is out of control.
Bay St Louis is a small town and people talk. Where is the electric bill on the August claims docket? Withheld just like 2013 because the City has no funds to pay its trade vendors and certain vendors are again complaining. The whisper number for unrecorded liabilities approaches $500,000 including the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority which Slabbed is told is owed in excess of $32,000 by the City despite Clerk Kolf’s assertion Tuesday night the City was current on that particular bill when challenged by the City council.
So, for all you pundits that think it is past time the City went up on its water bills and property taxes the question I ask is how much? Before you answer though you need to understand that in order to answer that question correctly, you gotta know where you stand financially when you pull the trigger.
Who are we believe to believe, the Mayor and the City Clerk who have consistently mislead the public and City Council or your own lying eyes? Now is not the time to panic and compound the problems by giving a spendthrift more money to throw away, especially when there are amazingly still certain City council members that openly dismiss the State Auditor’s office recommendation that a City should have 3 months of expenditures in reserve.
Speaking of reserves the bottom line is the City would not have spent close to $200,000 refinancing debt on the verge of defaulting had the City maintained a reserve. Such is the cost of the imbecilic financial decision making. I seriously doubt the City Council conducts their personal financial affairs in such a reckless fashion, especially my City councilman, whose spouse is a respected banker. The public deserves exactly the same.