Treasurer: City ‘operating in the red’
By Mark Randall firstname.lastname@example.org
Faced with mounting bills and not enough money in the general fund to pay them, Earle will have to cash in one of its certificate of deposits (CD) for $50,000 to get them through the rest of the year. City Clerk/Treasurer Cynthia Conner told the city council that they have over $13,000 in bills and only about $7,000 in the general fund. “The general fund has gotten low,” Conner said. “We are operating in the red.” Conner said the only money the city has is from turnback money which is given to cities each year by the state for operating expenses, and even that amount has been shrinking. “Money is just not coming in like it once was,” Conner said. “We don’t have any extra.” Mayor Carolyn Jones pointed out that this is not the first time the city has run a budget deficit at the end of the year, and seemed to imply that the council was aware of the overspending. Jones also noted that the police department has been generating about $11,000 to $20,000 per month. However, Conner pointed out that the department also costs the city about $4,000 a week and $6,000 to $7,000 every two weeks for payroll. Councilwoman Jimmie Barham said she was shocked to see they were in such financial distress. “What happened?” Barham asked. “This is not the first time,” Jones said. “She gives you a budget every month.” “I know that,” Barham responded. “All I’m saying is, this is a shock. A real shock. Our general fund was not like this. Things were not this pitiful.” Conner said she warned the council in July and again in August that they needed to cut down on spending. The council added several spending items that were not budgeted including $10,000 for a car for Mayor Jones, $4,000 to hire Lee Johnson as the city’s mechanic, and also for police overtime. On top of that, the city is also facing several lawsuits — one from two white police officers who were fired by Jones when she took office; one from an inmate who is suing the city for $50,000 for alleged injuries he sustained to his neck when an Earle police officer rear ended an vehicle while transporting him to the county jail; and a potential third lawsuit from former police chief Tyrone Smith, who was suspended by Jones pending the outcome of harassment charges against him. The case was dismissed but Smith has since been fired. It costs $3,000 per case for the Municipal League to defend the city against lawsuits. City Attorney Davis Loftin told the council that he would investigate the dubious claims and handle the accident case. The city also does not have the money to repair a 2014 Dodge Charger police car which threw a piston rod in the engine due to low oil. The estimate to repair the car is $7,400. Conner said the bills are typically higher in December and January. “You see your bills,” Conner said. “You see your outgoing is more than your incoming.” Councilman Kenneth Cross wondered why they don’t do a budget amendment every time they go over. “I would like to know if we overspent,” Cross said. “We need to figure out how we got there.” “She just told us,” Barham said. “We just spent a lot of money that wasn’t budgeted.” “We did go over the budget in July and we did change some line items,” Conner said. “When you know you only have $20,000 in a fund, you can’t do all of this.” Mayor Jones has canceled two budget meetings. “We’ve been buying cars. We hired a mechanic,” Conner said. “I’m just saying. That’s it right there. That was not budgeted. I can not pay the bills.” Councilman Donnie Cheers asked what the plan is to put the money back. “This is just a temporary loan,” Cheers said. “That’s the way we have to look at it, like we did in the past. And we always managed to put it back.” Last year the council had to make $32,000 in cuts. Barham suggested cutting the council’s salary. “All of us are going to have different ways to cut back,” Barham said. “One of them — and I will be glad to go on the record saying it — we can cut our salary.” City council members are paid $200 a month plus a $748 a month stipend. Cutting council salaries would save $91,008. “That can be something we look at,” Cheers said. “We can look at every way to put it back in the budget.” A vote to cash in $50,000 from a CD passed 6-2. Barham and Councilman Charlie Young voted no. “This is the first time in eight years we have ever had to get it from a CD,” Conner said.