Tonight, Bay St. Louis finances are under the microscope. WLOX News has confirmed that both the Department of Justice and the State Auditor’s office have sent investigators to Hancock County. And according to multiple city council sources, what they’re finding “is pretty ugly.”
The council members we talked with today say investigators are asking a lot of questions about how money has been spent by Bay St. Louis leaders. Those sources tell us some of the financial issues focus on a police forfeiture fund, and as much as $315,000 in unaccounted money.
I for one am glad WLOX has caught up with local happenings here in beautiful Mayberry-by-the-Sea, named by numerous travel magazines that few people read and even fewer take seriously as one of the coolest Mayberries in this entire nation. Its also broke and under investigation but what a few hundred thousand dollars of misspent Drug Forfeiture funds between friends and neighbors to go with all the other misspending?
That said with Stacey Pickering’s people lurking about Eye Spy, a veteran of sorts of State Auditor’s Office Investigations checked in yesterday with some good advice:
I would highly recommend all lower and mid-level employees to lawyer-up before dealing with Pickerings clan. The innocent will get fucked if they don’t.
I’m not going to re-live Slabbed’s previous coverage of the State’s non-prosecution of former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker in favor of nabbing lower level employees that may or may not have padded their travel by a few hundred dollars because it is what it is. However I’ve already seen the sure signs that Mayor Fillingame is putting his former City Clerk David Kolf under the bus, blaming Kolf by name for the closure of the Drug Forfeiture Fund in a City Council meeting (and also as quoted by Dwayne Bremer at the Seacoast Echo). Kolf would be exactly the type of mid-level employee Eye Spy would be talking about.
All that said sources in Bay St Louis government speaking to Slabbed New Media under condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the Drug Forfeiture Fund Investigation tell Slabbed the 2009 check which closed the related Drug Forfeiture Special Revenue Fund to the City’s General Fund just months after Mayor Fillingame first took office was written by current City Clerk Katherine Smith and signed by Mayor Fillingame.
Finally I’d like to note that at the City’s 2015-2016 budget workshop Mayor Fillingame proposed $1/hour raises for all City employees with the City Council settling on 50 cents. The Mayor is at least admitting the City is short on operating funds which is a polite way of saying the General Fund is broke. The General Fund in a Mississippi Municipality contains a variety of unrestricted revenue streams the two major ones being Sales and Property Taxes. Those revenue streams fund basic city services including Police, Fire and Public Works.
My educated guess is that at October 1, 2014, the City’s general fund had deficit cash when the Drug Forfeiture funds that were misspent are accounted for and quite frankly there is no telling what other dedicated revenue sources Mayor Fillingame raided to fuel his spending addiction, which he has done his best to hide for the past 6 years.
The other problem I see is that the amount of current claims payable has not been quantified. Sources on the Bay City Council indicate to Slabbed New Media that the 2014 draft audit entire indicates that check runs of City Council approved claims were voided after approval, ostensibly because there was no money in the General Fund to cover the checks. Until there is a current accounting of the amounts of claims payable and the General Fund Cash balance, the City Council is pissing in the wind fooling with the 2015-2016 municipal budget, which by law in Mississippi must be figured and presented on the cash basis of accounting with certain statutory exceptions.
Instead, despite the fact that none of the above is a secret because the State Auditor’s Office gives away for free its Mississippi Municipal Audit and Accounting Guide, last year the majority of the City’s elected official including the City Council acted as if this were all some sort of mystery and adopted a spending plan instead of a statutorily compliant municipal budget, albeit such spending plan one that was based on realistic revenue numbers for the first time in years.
The problem with all this is if the General Fund has deficit cash, there are large amounts of unrecorded claims payable and the City’s adopted current budget spends every nickle in revenue that is collected, the General Fund will end the year still in a deficit, one that will no doubt be larger if the unrecorded claims payable liabilities are every accounted for and this does not count the proposed 50 cent an hour raises.
Last year I watched Mayor Fillingame skillfully use the City’s employees to force the City Council to adopt a budget that was both statutorily deficient and fiscally irresponsible. It looks like it will be more of the same this year with the raises he proposed. Frankly, I think both Bay St Louis and Waveland underpay their work forces but that is not uncommon in small town Mississippi. But when you look at the over $150,000 the City had to pay in 2014 to refinance refunding bonds that were on the verge of default and all the other places tax money leaks out due to financial incompetence, the money for the raises is already there in revenues. This is especially true if a policy decision is made to stop wasting money on harebrained schemes that give free dumpster service to Beach Front restaurants along with funding free bus service in Old Town that few people depend upon for transportation that 50 cent raise is possible without taxes going up a nickle.
Until the Administration stops playing financial shell games with the City’s finances, I don’t see how anyone in their right minds would want to pay more tax to fund the financial shell games. That likely won’t stop a majority of the City Council from raising taxes even more to throw down Mayor Fillingame’s financial black hole however.