Eutaw City Council concerned about financial recordkeeping and reporting

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the Eutaw City Council was unable to get a second and vote on a motion made by Councilman Joe Lee Powell to pay bills for the month of August.
Three Council members present, LaTasha Johnson, Jeffrey Carpenter and Sheila H. Smith expressed misgivings about paying the bills without a more detailed financial statement and record of the City’s finances and bank accounts. Councilman Bennie Abrams was absent and was not present to second or vote on the motion. Had Abrams been present, the motion may have resulted in a tie vote on paying the bills.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson said she sent Mayor Steele a letter asking for specific information about bills and bank accounts especially the funds coming from electronic bingo. Councilman Carpenter said he has been pushing for many years for the city to have a budget and pay bills based on a plan and a budget.

Mayor Steele said the City of Eutaw did not have its records in proper form to provide the reports and budget that were being requested. Steele said Council members could come to City Hall “at any time and request that the City Clerk show them any bills, bank statements or other financial data they want to see.”
Steele said that he had discussed this with James Gardner, the City’s CPA and accounting firm and was advised that additional funds were needed to train and support City Hall staff to enter information in the computer system to generate the needed reports. Steele said that he would invite Gardner to speak with the Council at a work session on Monday, September 18, 2017 to explain the situation.
At the Council Work Session, Gardner explained that the last audit for the City of Eutaw was done by him in FY2012 and that a Financial Compilation Report and Financial Statement was done for fiscal year 2014, through September 30, 2014. There have been no financial statements or reports done by his firm for the ensuing fiscal years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Bank statements and files of receipts and expenditures are on file in the City Hall, which could be used to construct a financial statement and reports.
Gardner said that he would send an estimate of the cost to do these unaudited compilation statements by the next City Council meeting. Gardner said it would cost $4,000 to $7,000 to train City Hall staff to enter financial information in a modified QuickBooks system, for the city’s multiple accounts, starting October 1, 2017. Once this training was done and the system was properly maintained he could do an audited statement for the FY2018, which ends September 30, 2018.
Mayor Steele said that he would bring a report from the CPA firm on recordkeeping, accounting and financial reporting to the next meeting for the Council to make a formal decision.
At the Council Work Session, Mayor Steele reported that the City water system expansion project was moving toward conclusion. More new digitized self-reporting water meters will still be installed, including individual meters in Carver Circle taking the place of a single master meter.
Steele said the new water tank would be painted by the end of October and put into operation by the end of the year. This would allow the power pole to be moved from its temporary location in the street near the Courthouse to its permanent place. The Mayor also indicated that the water line contractor would return to fix other areas that were affected by the construction.
The Mayor indicated that the City’s knuckle-boom truck to cut and remove trees from city roadways was in the shop and would require $18,000 to $20,000 to repair. He reported that both City backhoes were also in the shop for repair and that the city workers were doing their best to pick up branches piled up on the side of roads and streets.
Steele said, “Our equipment is very old and in need of repair and upgrading. We are going to do our best to prepare for the Tour of Homes, scheduled for October 7 and 8, in Eutaw.”
At the September 12 Council meeting, Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith confronted Mayor Steele and tried to make a motion to deny the Mayor the use of a new 2017 Tahoe, he uses for conducting city business. Smith said the vehicle could be better used by the Police Department.
Steele said he needed the car to show visitors interested in the community, a positive image of the community. He also said he needed a reliable vehicle to travel to meetings to seek resources for the city. The Mayor suggested that Smith was taking these actions against him, as personal retribution, because he had requested that she turn in her city issued cell phone. The Mayor was successful in ruling the motion out-of-order but the issue lingers and may come up again in future meetings.

Alabama Power explains placement of power pole in the street

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Shown above l to r: Councilpersons Bennie Abram, LaTasha Johnson, Shelia Smith, Mayor Raymond Steele, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Mrs. Janice Benison, Councilman LaJeffery Carpenter and Councilman Joe L. Powell. Mayor Steele and City Council gives recogntion to Sheriff Benison.

At the Eutaw City Council meeting held Tuesday, August 22, 2017, Mayor Raymond Steele asked Dan Bott of Alabama Power to explain how the power pole got placed in the middle of the street alongside the courthouse. Bott stated that Alabama Power could not obtain an easement to place the pole on county property while the new water tank was being installed. He noted that a re-routing to place it on other property would have been too costly. “We had to consider the other hundreds of customers who are also served by that same line. That coverage extends to customers in the Knoxville and Jena communities,” he said.
According to Bott, it would have cost approximately $200,000 to re-route the line; placing it in the street, near the construction, cost about $30,000. Mayor Steele stated that this cost is included in the grant. It was noted that the work on the water tank should be completed by the end of September and the power pole will be returned to its original position.
At the opening of the meeting, Mayor Steele requested the removal of the agenda item which proposed a liquor license for John’s of Eutaw. A motion for the same was presented and passed. No explanation was given for withdrawing the item.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson noted errors in the previous minutes and asked that statements erroneously attributed to her be removed.
Councilman Joe Powell asked that travel mileage for Deadra Thomas be adjusted to the correct rate.
Since there was no old business on the agenda, the council approved the bills presented.
In his report, Mayor Steele again stated that the water tank would be completed in September, but there is still some work to be done on the water lines. According to Steele, by September, the city should be ready to read meters electronically. “Software will be installed next week and the staff will be trained,” he said.Councilman Powell stated that he does not want the city to cut grass if the workers will not remove the papers that get cup up. He said that limbs are also cut and left on site. Mayor Steele responded saying that the city has limited staff and cannot perform pick-up duty.
Councilwoman Johnson noted that there are similar problems on Kirksey, regarding cutting grass, papers and other debris and just leaving that there. Johnson also presented the sewer concerns for the residents of Lock 7. The mayor responded saying that there are no funding sources available for sewer grants at this time, until the water project is completed.
In the closing business, the Mayor and City Council presented a special recognition to Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison for his financial support of bingo funds to the city. Sheriff Benison and his wife were present to receive the award.
In public comments, Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack, Inc., gave a summary presentation on the initial purpose of the Bingo Bill passed by the community in 1973. He said that bingo was approved by the people with the expectation that significant resources would go to the primary institutions in the county. These included the school system, the first responders (Volunteer Fire Departments, Ambulance Service, E911) and the hospital. Winn noted that when there was only one bingo facility in the county and locally owned, the Greene County Hospital received approximately $120,000 a year in bingo funds. Now with five bingo establishments, hardly any bingo funds go to the hospital, which is struggling to remain open and in dire need of operating and upgrading funds. Winn distributed documents which supported his statements.

Mayor Steele reports on Water Tower progress

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At Tuesday’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, Mayor Steele reported on the progress of building the new water tank and tower behind City Hall. “The structure of the tower is going up and the bowl for the tank should be set this week,” said Steele.
The photograph with this story show the size and impact of the new water tower which will be linked to the new water lines, fire hydrants and water meters being placed as part of the $3.1 USDA Rural Development loan and grant package to update the city water system.
In other actions:
• The City Council agreed to a certificate honoring Sheriff Joe Benison for his help to the city with funds from electronic bingo.
• Approved a license for alcohol sales to Get Well Drug and Dollar Store.
• Approved a promotion to Sergeant for Police Officer Rodriquez Jones; Councilwoman Latasha Johnson voted against this motion because of concerns she has about the officer’s treatment of citizens of Eutaw.
•Discussed and tabled a proposal from Mayor Steele to seek a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for constructing a pavilion, bathrooms and a concession stand in the City Park on Lock 7 Road. The project is estimated to cost up to $100,000 with a 50-50 match from the city that is required.
• Approved use of the National Guard Armory for ‘New Hope – New Visions’ organization.
• Approved providing chairs and tables from the Armory for a program of the Senior Olympics in Eutaw.

Eutaw City Council approves construction financing for water project; modifies pay for some city employees; plans to update all water bills by January 2017

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L to R: Mayor Raymond Steele and Mayor Pro Tem Sheila H. Smith.

The Eutaw City Council met on November 22, 2016 for its first full meeting since the election to consider business. All members were present.
LaTasha Johnson moved to amend the agenda to consider election of a Mayor Pro Tem of the Council to serve in the absence of the Mayor. This decision was left over from the Council organizational meeting on November 7, 2016. Johnson then proposed rotating Pro Tem for a year’s term, starting with Sheila H. Smith, representing District 4 and then moving to the other districts in numerical order. This motion was approved and Sheila H. Smith was designated as Mayor Pro Tem.
City Attorney Ken Aycock brought up approval of a contract with Co-Bank, a Denver based agricultural cooperative bank, to provide interim construction financing for the $3.1 million loan and grant water project for the City approved by USDA Rural Development. Co-Bank is providing the financing during construction and USDA RD will pay off the construction loan once the project is completed according to the proposed and designed specifications.

Co-Bank’s interest is based on a commercial banking index rate that changes as interest rates rise but is currently close to 1%, which is a very reasonable rate.
The City Council moved to unanimously approve the construction financing agreement with Co-Bank, which was the last remaining paperwork hurdle before the low bidders can start the project.
Mayor Steele introduced a resolution modifying the pay rates of several positions including City Clerk, Water Clerk, Assistant Police Chief and others. The salary adjustments were approved but not shared with the public. Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith urged that the City Council consider all the police officers for a raise in the future. The Democrat has submitted a written request for the City’s salary schedule for all employees.
The Council approved the purchase of two used vehicles from ALDOT for use by the City’s Public Works Department. The Council paid outstanding bills and claims for September and October 2016.
The Council approved the travel of the City Clerk to a Municipal Training Conference in Florence, Alabama from November 30 to December 2, 2016. The Council also approved the selection of Walter Beck as Assistant Police Chief.
Mayor Steele brought up the issue of filling seats on the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. In the public comment period later in the meeting, James Powell said it was important to fill these positions so that the Eutaw and Greene County Housing Authorities could proceed with discussion of a merger, which HUD is actively pushing and supporting. “The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants one unified housing board to work through to improve public housing, including Branch Heights, in the city and the county,” said Powell.
Mayor Steele also brought up the need for a resolution for the City of Eutaw to accept the roads and streets in Branch Heights as a first step to finding the resources to solve the problems in Branch Heights. In response to questions, Steele said, “we need an official resolution to clear up any confusion on who owns these streets; and then we can work to find the resources to fix them. The Council asked Attorney Aycock to prepare a resolution for the next meeting.
The Mayor reported that the City water bills were 5 to 6 months behind and that citizens would soon get a water bill for three months and then in January 2017 a water bill catching up on all past due usage. “We will give residents and businesses grace time to pay these water bills, if time and payment plans are needed. We must get the water billing up to date. We are working diligently to make repairs and fix leaks in the system while waiting for the major new steps, like the digital self-reporting meters, that come with the USDA water project.”
Mr. Babb, City Engineer reported on building permits and progress on the resurfacing of Prairie Avenue from the Courthouse Square to Highway 43.