Published 12:00 am Friday, June 6, 2008
By Billy Davis
The town of Crenshaw, already reeling from a theft of city funds at town hall, owes more than $38,000 in bills that are at least 60 months past due, the mayor and board of aldermen were told Tuesday night.
Mayor Sylvester Reed and a quorum of three aldermen received a list of past-due bills when the meeting’s agenda called for the board to approve the pay docket. Town clerk Renee Ward presented the list of overdue bills along with the June pay docket.
Along with Reed, Aldermen David Whitsell, Alberta Bradley and Patricia Dodson viewed a listing of overdue bills for phone service, garbage service, and workers compensation insurance and liability insurance for town employees, and 14 other vendors.
The highest past-due bill is $8,316 owed to the Panola County Sheriff’s Department for the jailing of prisoners for the Crenshaw Police Department. The town has set up a monthly payment plan of $250 to pay down that debt, which includes at least some arrearage from the prior administration.
The past-due payment to the sheriff’s department caught the attention of Whitsell, who suggested that the town should be abiding by its promise to make a monthly payment.
“We should be doing what we said we’d do,” said Whitsell.
“Only if you have the money to send,” responded the mayor.
The list of overdue bills gave the aldermen a chance to grill Reed, who is deciding each month which vendors receive payment. Although Reed makes that decision, the board’s action to pay the docket technically authorizes that each vendor is paid.
When the meeting’s agenda moved to approval of the June pay docket, Bradley made note of the “mighty big docket,” which totals more than $16,000. She then asked Ward, “Renee, do we have the money to pay?”
“Yes, we have the money to pay,” came the response – but from Reed, not Ward.
After the mayor’s interruption, Bradley then asked Ward to describe the “money in the bank.” Ward replied that Crenshaw town government has $1,710 in its general fund and $1,163 in the water bill fund.
“Is that typical?” Whitsell asked, addressing Ward, regarding the bank accounts.
“It hasn’t quite been that low before,” Ward replied.
Responding to the town clerk, Reed then described the bank accounts as “semi-low” and delivered a meandering speech about a “typical” bill owed by the city.
Reed also blamed the town’s overdue bills for garbage service and county jail fees on the “prior administration,” meaning former Mayor Oscar Barlow.
Aldermen eventually approved the docket 2-1, with Bradley voting “no.”
Reached after the meeting, Ward said she alerted the mayor and aldermen of the past-due bills to keep a promise she made to town officials.
“Last year there was an issue of them not knowing the financial situation,” Ward said. “I told them I would give them an update every three months.”
In related town business, financial consultant Lygunnah Bean informed the mayor and board that the unsolved break-in at town hall led to a loss of $3,343. Of the missing funds, 10 checks totaling $698 were part of the theft, and he urged the mayor and board to contact those residents with a formal letter and recoup the lost funds.
“They should be more than willing to write the town another check,” Bean told the mayor and board.
Regarding the theft, Bean also urged town officials to stop using cash at city hall and the police department, and allow citizens to pay bills with a check or money order.
“Even with an honest person, cash is tempting,” he said.
The mayor and board took no action on Bean’s suggestion, but Bradley asked that it be added to the meeting’s agenda in July.
Bean also asked the mayor and aldermen to consider “cut backs” in three areas – employee benefits such as taxes, insurance and retirement, the maintenance budget, and the police department budget – when town officials begin working on the town budget for the coming fiscal year.
Those three categories are the largest expenditures at city hall, Bean said, “and if you want to control cost, you have to control your biggest accounts.”