John Howell Sr. 1/18/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2013

Town clerk can be key component of Como recovery

One step in Como that could give the mayor and aldermen a better chance to deal with their bleak financial status would be to make the current municipal clerk’s position full time.

The town’s financial outlook grew increasingly dim during the latter half of 2012. By the start of 2013, the mayor and aldermen are considering what actions they can take that are drastic enough to reverse the town’s fortunes.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

After the former town clerk — who had been full-time — resigned, the mayor and aldermen decided during their budgeting for the 2013 fiscal year that the town could only afford a part-time clerk. When they hired the present clerk, it was with the understanding that the job would be part-time. The town’s experience during the last several month’s have shown the folly of “penny-wise and pound foolish.”

With the present clerk limited to 24 hours a week and a host of unpaid creditors, it is hard to imagine the clerk having time to do anything but answer phone calls from people demanding their money.

A full-time clerk cannot provide the solution for Como’s financial plight, but the clerk can get full grasp of the outflow and income to the town treasury and keep elected officials abreast of what’s going on from day to day.

Further, the clerk is the key person to help find water and sewer service customers who are not being billed at all or who are not being billed correctly.

The present clerk appears to be willing and capable of helping the mayor and aldermen gain more control over Como’s financial crisis — if only she had time enough to devote to the job.

Bringing the town clerk to full-time status will not provide the solution, but it could be an important step.

Demonstrated in Crenshaw

Remember Crenshaw? From 2005 to 2009 it was Crenshaw Town Clerk Renee Ward whose careful scrutiny over finances kept the lights on during the darkest years of their fiscal crisis.

Then a new administration in Crenshaw added political will to Ward’s careful scrutiny and management and by 2011, Crenshaw had dug itself out of a deep hole.

Crenshaw Mayor Oscar Barlow, whose election in 2009 placed willing leadership into the mix, was quick to credit Ward as a key component in the town’s recovery.

Como’s fiscal problems started earlier and run deeper than those in Crenshaw. Obviously recovery will take longer. But Como’s tourism tax proceeds, if used carefully and creatively, give the town resources that Crenshaw did not have.

Crisis affects entire county
What Panola County residents need to understand is this is not just a Como problem, it’s a Panola County problem. The municipality’s debts include payments due to Panola County Solid Waste for garbage collection billed to the town and payments due to the county jail for housing inmates arrested in Como.

Como’s elected officials realize that as long as the town can’t pay its garbage bill and inmate housing expenses county taxpayers who live outside of Como corporate limits are subsidizing the town for those services.

Como officials serious about solution
To their credit, the mayor and aldermen seem serious about catching up with those payments as well as with other creditors long unpaid. Serving as an elected official in a municipality that is strapped for revenue is much like being a member of a family with no money: sometimes it’s not as easy to get along when everybody has to bicker over every penny.

Yet during last Friday’s public hearing that brought to light for many citizens who attended just how serious the town’s financial plight is, the tone of the discourse was civil, the attitude was more about “what can we do to help” than “who is to blame.”

Full time clerk should be first step
Having a clerk working full time, even with the expense to the town of paying for an additional 16 to 20 hours weekly, will allow the clerk, and subsequently elected officials, to get a better grasp on town finances. It will also allow the town to more quickly overhaul its water and sewer service and realize more revenue from the new, higher rates being implemented.

It would be a small step towards Como’s recovery, but barring an unforeseen windfall, the solution to the town’s problems will likely come with many small steps.

Bringing the clerk to full time would be the logical first step.