I could write a treatise in real life failed local government from closely observing the workings of the Bay St Louis City government over the past three years but I’m not. I am ready to call it like I see it and can do so in a fairly short post. The overarching principle here is municipal government is dysfunctional because that is exactly the way the Mayor and City Council want it. And yes last night again saw a City Council divided on what I see as a fundamental issue: Council access to the legal services the cost of which is born by the City’s taxpayers. The vote was for more of the status quo.
To blame the financial catastrophe that has befallen the City solely on Mayor Fillingame would be misplaced. Over the past three years I’ve attended meetings where the assembled crowd knew more about operating within the four corners of the state statutes than those charged with governing. A cynical man would automatically think such public displays of ignorance from elected officials could only mean a hidden, self interest based agenda had to be present. The bottom line is don’t hold your breath waiting over the next year for things to improve as the administration is certain to ignore the directives of the City Council that it doesn’t like and the Council lacks the collective political will to force the administration to play nice, for lack of a better term. Even worse, with its current Ad Valorem levy about 33% low compared to its sister Cities here on the coast the problems can only continue. On the other hand given the fiscal mismanagement that’s occurred over the past seven years there is no way I could ever justify recommending giving the current Mayor and this City Council any more tax money to squander. Its a classic catch 22.
By my rough count there are about 11 months before the City’s voters go to the polls and it will take more than a simple house cleaning to cure the structural problems with a municipal government that does not levy enough general fund taxes to fund the delivery of basic city services across the entirety of the City. Politically, the council districts have been pitted against each other competing for the delivery of basic city services. The divide between Ward 6 residents, who are now relying on the County’s good graces to maintain the public rights of way there and Ward 2 residents that sometimes exhibit the attitude the City limits do not extend past the intersection of Washington St and US 90 was on display as recently as this past Tuesday’s regular meeting. Continue reading “Time to Call It: The Dysfunctional City of Bay St Louis, a Municipality Apart….”
The big surprise party for Mayor Fillingame last night was courtesy of Ward 6 Councilman Lonnie Falgout. Falgout confronted City Attorney Rafferty and Mayor Fillingame with documents from the Hancock Bank pertaining to the Restructured Bond Agreement of last summer when the city could not come up with their payment of over 400,000 on Utility system bonded debt.
Falgout asked Rafferty if he was present when the documents were signed–Rafferty replied yes. Then Falgout told the Mayor that he had signed a document with the bank guaranteeing them that payments of not less than $30,000 a month would be DEPOSITED in the debt service holding account for the payment coming up on July 1, 2015.
Fillingame adamantly denied promising to DEPOSIT the money monthly to the debt service account until Falgout read the document aloud to the Mayor and all present. According to Falgout at the last meeting, no DEPOSITS were made from October, 2014 until the end of March, 2015, coincidentally when the Ad Valorem taxes were coming in from the County Tax office. So, what was happening to that “not less than $30,000 a month” promised to the bank under the Mayor and City Clerk’s signature? This is what caught the attention of Councilman-at-large Mike Favre when he didn’t see that account growing to the amount the council had appropriated in the 2014-2015 budget.
This is important because when the Mayor and City Clerk were taken to task several meetings ago about the funds not being deposited on a monthly basis or reported to the Council, the Mayor took the podium and chastised the Council saying–“you can only speak through your minutes, and you have never told us how you wanted it handled.” Mayor Fillingame then informed the council the transfer to the debt service fund would be made quarterly.
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.