Last night’s Special Called Meeting of the Eutaw City Council ended in a deadlocked 3 to 3 tie vote over paying bills for the City.
Mayor Raymond Steele, Latasha Johnson and Bennie Abrams voted in favor of paying the bills while Joe Lee Powell, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Shiela H. Smith voted against paying the outstanding bills for May and June.
This special meeting was held because the prior regular Council meeting, last Tuesday June 12, ended in an argument between Council members and the Mayor, after an Executive Session discussing the movement of funds to pay bills.
In an interview with the Democrat, Councilman Joe Lee Powell said he was concerned that Mayor Steele had transferred $115,000 from an account earmarked to repair roads and streets in Branch Heights to pay the City’s current bills. The account had about $350,000 in it before the transfer.
“ A meeting was held in Branch Heights to discuss the status of the ‘road fund’ which comes from a $27,000 monthly set aside of funds paid by the Palace Electronic Bingo Hall. After the meeting, the Mayor transferred the funds out of the Road Account into the General Fund, and used them to pay bills,” asserted Councilman Powell, who lives in Branch Heights and represents the area on the Eutaw City Council.
“What the Mayor did was take the little hope we had of fixing the roads in Branch Heights and dashed our hopes. The Mayor should have met with us to figure out what other parts of the budget could be cut and how to adjust accounts to make funds available to pay bills. How will we pay next month’s bills, does Mayor Steele plan to dip into the Branch Heights Road Fund again?” asks Powell.
Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter says, “ This is not a new problem, the Mayor knows our income has been dropping for several months. Why didn’t he meet with the Council to discuss this before taking the Branch Heights funds without our permission? If we had a budget for the City, we could have caught this problem in time and avoided being in this situation.”
Mayor Steele says, “ I had no choice but to use the funds we had to pay our bills, including a bill to IRS on late payment of employee taxes. I have been working with U. S. Senator Richard Shelby and others to get the $5 million needed to redo the roads and streets in Branch Heights. It is going to take a lot more than the money in the special Branch Heights Road Fund to fix the roads. We need to pay our bills now and work on the roads when more substantial funds become available from the Federal government.”
Steele went on to say, “I consulted with Sheriff Benison before I moved the road funds over to the general fund. He agreed that we needed to pay our current bills.”
“ I am also hoping in the near future that the Love’s Truck Stop, at the Interstate 40 Exit, will become a reality and can generate new sales and gas tax revenues to help with the City’s General Fund and for special projects like repair of the roads in Branch Heights,” said Steele.
Powell said, “ Mayor Steele was wrong not to meet with us and present and discuss his plan to move and spend the Branch Heights Road Fund monies. If he had worked with us, we might have found a solution that all could live with. I did not vote to pay the list of bills he presented because most of them were marked paid already, with the funds he transferred. He has to work with us and he cannot dictate to us without any discussion.”
Asked if delays in sending water bills was contributing to the City’s financial problems, Powell said, “I think everyone will get a partial bill this week but I would not have signed off on the water project, like Mayor Steele did, until everything was worked out on the new digital self-reading water meters. This is part of the problem but until we sit down together – the Council and the Mayor – we will not be able to work out these problems.”
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved the 2018 ‘Back to School’ Sales Tax Holiday from July 20-22, 2018;
• Approved travel to the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Orange Beach from July 29 to August 2, 2018 for Chief Derrick Coleman and Assistant Chief Beck; and
* Cancelled the regular City Council meeting set for June 26, 2018.
* The City of Eutaw will be closed July 4,5,6, 2018 for Independence Day