City Council members put city staff on the spot Monday night, questioning the accounting and spending practices of a city that is in a fragile financial position. Council member Alex Ilnyckyj said the city had paid $148,612 to Henigar & Ray Engineering Associates during the past year under a purchase order that approved only $50,000 in spending.
Such spending practices were among the reasons the city budget has gone into the red repeatedly in recent years, City Manager Merv Waldrop said.
Waldrop said he has implemented corrective measures, but that some of the changes did not take effect until Oct. 1.
Council member Kitty Ebert wasn't satisfied: "I thought it stopped last April (when former City Manager Gil Hess was fired), but obviously it hasn't," she said.
Ebert also complained that the city has been undercharging some motels, apartments and mobile-home parks for sanitation service. City ordinance says they should be charged a base fee of $4
per dwelling unit.
The city has been charging only $4 for an entire motel or apartment complex. In reviewing the ordinance for a proposed base rate increase, staff found they were supposed to be charging more, Waldrop said. The error cost the city about $4,000 a month.
The revelation upset council member Marjorie Copeland, who complained that at a time when the city is raising fees to balance its budgets, it should make sure it is collecting all the money it is owed.
"If you come up with $4,000 a month that we have not been billing, everybody back there needs to be fired," she said.
Ilnyckyj also renewed his attacks on city staff for hiring Henigar & Ray to design a sewer plant expansion without seeking other offers first.
"There was no bid out," he said. "Yet we're using these people. We're just doling out the cash."
City staff has said the design work came under the city's contract with Henigar & Ray for engineering services.
Ilnyckyj suggested the city try to get its money back from Henigar & Ray because the City Council had never approved the expenditure. To that suggestion, Mayor Herb Williams told Ilnyckyj: "Sue them."
"If it comes to that," Ilnyckyj said, "I think we should find a new city manager."
Ilnyckyj's continued attacks on staff over the sewer project once again brought council member Levi Phillips to the staff's defense.
"It's very easy to sit out here and make accusations and statements and beat around the bush," Phillips said.
As Phillips and Ilnyckyj tried to outshout one another, Williams intervened: "One of you talk at a time, or I'm going to shut both of you up."
The mayor ended the discussion after Ilnyckyj shouted, "We're just blowing our money away."
"Okay, Mr. Ilnyckyj, you've blowed about enough now," Williams said. "Let's go to item B."