Chief Derick Coleman with new police officer Derrick Carter
By: John Zippert,
The Eutaw City Council held a special called meeting on Monday night, July 15, 2019, to approve transferring $70,000 of bingo funds in a Capital Improvement Fund to meet immediate outstanding bills critical to keep the city operating.
This decision came against a backdrop of long-standing arguments over city finances between Mayor Steele and councilmembers. Council members: LaJeffrey Carpenter, Latasha Johnson and Sheila Smith have requested a budget, a meaningful plan for using city funds to cover routine and extraordinary city expenses. Councilman Joe Lee Powell sometimes joins this group especially when needed expenditures concern his district. Councilman Benny Abrams has generally voted with the Mayor.
About three months ago, the City Council in an unprecedented action removed Mayor Steele as a signatory on most city accounts and left the payment of bills to Councilmen Carpenter and Powell. These council members, aided by City Clerk, Kathy Bir have prioritized and paid the bills as best they could. The City has a list of accounts payable between $200,000 and $300,000, which were presented to the Council in the past few meetings.Councilwoman Sheila Smith points out that there are problems in the City Water Department with billing. The City sends out bills for a combination of water, sewer and garbage services. The amount of revenue coming in is not sufficient to pay the expenses for these services. Some people have received minimum water bills for months even though they know that they are using substantial amounts of water.
There seems to be a disconnect in the computer softwear used to read the new digital water meters and the printing of bills. The City has called the Alabama Rural Water Association to help diagnose and solve these water billing problems but progress in resolving the issues is slow. The Mayor insists that all problems with the new digital, self-reading meters have been resolved but the continuing dilemma of low revenues from the water, sewer and garbage fees suggests that problems remain.
Mayor Steele called Monday’s special meeting to transfer funds from the City Capital Improvement Account and from the
Special Fund for repair roads in Branch Heights to pay the current backlog of bills. Mayor Steele insisted, “ We are endangering the lives of city residents by not paying these bills. Our wifi communications have been turned off for non-payment of bills, which means our police cannot write tickets and check driver’s identities. We are not able to put chlorine in the water and people may die. We are not doing things required by state statutes.”
The Mayor asked to transfer funds from the current Capital Improvement Account, which has a balance of $70,312 and the Special Fund for Branch Heights Roads, which has a balance of $577,000 to pay outstanding bills.
A motion was made to transfer funds in the Capital Improvement Account and put the bingo funds flowing in to this account for the next six months into the General Fund to pay bills. The Council also wants to have a discussion with the Sheriff about using funds from the Special Funds for Branch Heights Roads for paying bills. The Mayor used half a million dollars in the 7 cent Highway Fund to pay for resurfacing the Branch Heights Roads, so he feels that Sheriff Benison should release funds in the Special Account for the city to pay its bills.
As soon as the motion was passed, the Mayor adjourned the meeting. This reporter had to jump up and ask that the figures be clarified so that the public would know how their monies were being spent. No figures on the funds to be transferred were used in the discussion or motion. You are seeing figures in this story that the newspaper had to beg for and pry out of the Mayor and city officials.
$70,000 of Capital Improvement funds will be transferred immediately to pay pressing bills. This fund receives $4,500 each month in bingo funds from Greenetrack, Rivers Edge and Frontier bingos, which totals $13,500. Prior to the closing of Greene Charity, there was another $4,500 a month flowing into this account. $13,500 for the month of June is still pending and expected for this account that may be used to pay bills.
Another $27,000 a month of bingo funds from the Palace is paid into the Special Fund set up by the Sheriff for Branch Heights Roads. Some councilmembers argue that these funds are needed for roadwork in King Village and other multi-family housing complexes.
In the July 9, 2019, regular City Council meeting, the Council:
• Approved ordinances to allow for Sunday liquor sales and clarifying the sale of wine in Eutaw; the ordinances will go into affect after they are published one time in the newspaper;
• Approved travel for the City Clerk and administrative assistant for training;
• Authorized the Mayor to pursue FEMA funding for repair of culverts throughout the city that have been damaged by recent heavy rains. 75% of these repairs are paid by FEMA, 12.5% by the State of Alabama and 12.5% are a local matching contribution.
Police Chief Derick Coleman introduced a new part time police officer, Derrick Carter. The Chief indicated that this hire would bring the force to seven full time and three part time officers.