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John Howell Column

John Howell Sr.

Dark cloud that hung over Como breaking apart

Almost drowned out by the necessary natter of municipal business in Como Tuesday night were three indicators of a pending shift in the town’s fortunes.

First, foremost: Ongoing negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service are apparently tilting to Como’s favor, according to Mayor Judy Sumner’s report during the monthly meeting of mayor and aldermen. Though she was reluctant to state an amount until the IRS documents it in writing, the outlook has drastically improved over little less than two years ago when the IRS seized the town’s bank accounts for nonpayment of employee withholdings into trust fund accounts.

The seizure was followed in the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 with subsequent revelations at board meetings — often held weekly during the crisis — of yet more unpaid municipal debt. At those meetings the gloom about Como’s future was almost palpable, hanging over the meeting room like a dark cloud.

The mayor on Tuesday night also announced that a compilation of the town’s revenue and expenses for 2006-’07 is nearing completion. The compilation, reconstructed from the financial disarray of that period, is essential for Como to be considered eligible for stimulus funds and a necessary component of grant applications.

Further, aldermen approved a resolution appointing a new grant administrator to close out a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that Como had received in 2005. Only about $5,000 remains in the grant, but taking the necessary steps to complete the grant and get it closed is significant. As the mayor said: “We will not get a cent for anything until this is closed.”

The mayor, aldermen and citizens still have their differences in Como. They should. If everybody agreed on everything, they would not be needed anyway. (Besides, we need to sell a few newspapers.)

But not too long ago those differences often became exaggerated as people labored under the tension that accompanied that dark, gloomy cloud. Statements driven by tension were often out of character to be coming from the ordinarily decent folks from whose mouths they were spoken.

All three items — settlement with the IRS, completion of the compilation and closing the CDBG grant — are still pending. Como is still in a financial crisis that will require continued diligent stewardship of resources  by its municipal clerk and elected officials.

But the dark cloud that seemed to be hanging over the meeting room during meetings of the mayor and aldermen has broken up. The difference is refreshing.