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Finances addressed at council meeting

By Staff | Jan 22, 2014

Editor’s Note: The mayor’s budget in the printed version of the today’s Tyler Star News was a misquote. It should have read that $2,779 of the allotted $3,710 had been spent, as quoted in the story. The correction has been made in this online version of the story, and a retraction will be printed in next week’s issue of the Tyler Star News.

Issues concerning city budgets were discussed at the Jan. 13 regular Sistersville Council meeting, which was held in the Fire Hall rather than City Hall.

Because the fiscal year is only halfway completed, particular interest was paid to budgets of which above 50 percent has already been spent.

The three main areas of focus included: Park and Pool, 103 percent; the recorder, 100 percent; and the mayor, 75 percent.

Councilman Mark Klages, who serves on the Finance Committee, noted that the majority of mayoral expenses were not from Mayor Ann Doig, who has only been in office a few months. Mayor Doig said the only time she has drawn from her budget, since she began filling the unfinished term of former Mayor Dave Fox in September 2013, was to replace slashed tires on the city vehicle she drives.

“How can the mayor’s budget be 75 percent?” she asked. “Didn’t we see one where it was almost next to nothing?”

“If you’re looking at the budget report, your budget for the year is $3,710,” said Klages, stating $2,779 of that had already been spent. “There’s six months left in the fiscal year.”

Klages also discussed the funds allotted to the recorder’s position.

“I looked back through past reports, and it’s been on an increasing trend the past couple of months,” he said.

While accepting that the Park and Pool’s finances are usually in the red, it was questioned where the funds would come from to complete maintenance when it came time to open the pool.

Council noted the possibility that these budgetary problems may not be human error. They agreed to have Computer Support Services Inc. (CSSI) examine the program the city uses to determine if some of the finances were generated incorrectly by the software.

“We’ll look back and see where it’s actually at,” said Mayor Doig of the numbers.

As of the meeting, the Finance Committee also had not yet received a final report from Recorder Julie Schleier stating what money Sistersville has, where it is located, what bills are outstanding, and the status of bills in their entirety.

“Nobody showed to pick it up,” said Mayor Ann Doig of the final report. “They were supposed to come (to City Hall) that afternoon at 3 p.m.”

“It’s still not there,” said Klages. “I’ve been to the city building to get it. So that report is still outstanding. I’m not holding it against (former Recorder) Julie (Schleier). She had three-and-a-half days to do a turnover. But we can’t clear Julie’s accountability until we get that report.”

“Wouldn’t all of our amounts of money be on our bank statements?” asked Mayor Doig. “We have all of that.”

“But we haven’t seen it,” said Klages. “What we want is to see the report.”

The responsibility of a report will now fall on newly appointed Interim Recorder Brenda Weekly.

As of the meeting, the Finance Committee had also not yet received an expense report regarding the ferry. However, it was noted that the port authority showed zero expenses to date.

“I think they’re planning on having a Ferry Board meeting in early February,” said Mayor Doig.

Councilman Craig Pritchett, who serves on the Finance Committee, explained why he wanted discussion about the city’s vehicle policy to be placed on the agenda.

“We were talking about ways that we could possibly trim the fat around the city,” he said. “We should look into how many vehicles the city has. I know that we had gotten rid of two of the (police) cruisers and replaced them with brand new cruisers because of the maintenance cost, and I think we still have those (old) cruisers.”

“One of them went to the sewer plant because the engine was gone out of the green truck, and the other one went to the water plant because they were looking into buying another vehicle,” said Chief of Police Ben Placer. “I told them they might as well take that and run it until it (would need repairs).”

Chief Placer also reported that the maintenance cost on vehicles is comparatively lower than it was. When Pritchett asked how many vehicles were currently in use by the city, Mayor Doig listed about 10 vehicles, not counting police cruisers.

“It’s something to look at,” said Pritchett of the automobiles, again discussing the old cruisers. “We got rid of those vehicles because it cost so much to maintain them, and then we kept them.”

“I don’t think (City Commissioner) Daniel (Grimes) is putting any money into them,” said Mayor Doig. “When they break down, that’s it. They’re done.”

She also addressed insurance coverage for city employees traveling by vehicle.

“When someone had to take samples to Charleston, they drove their own car. They (city employees) are not covered to drive their own cars. When you’re on city time, you have to use a city vehicle.”

Councilman Mitch Corley suggested vehicle reports be turned in by departments at the end of each month, detailing mileage and maintenance.

Other items addressed by the Finance Committee included: requiring more accountability on purchases made on the city’s purchase cards, in order to take some of that responsibility off the recorder’s shoulders; revisiting and altering the way they produce the budget control report; and setting up better indicators of total amounts spent in different areas.

Much of this information was discussed during what Klages cited as a “cure plan” suggested by the Ethics Commission. The plan involved them publicly revealing details of two committee meetings in which a quorum of council members were present. After operating under the guidance of the W.Va. Municipal League, they were later informed by the W.Va. Ethics Commission that the meetings were illegal.

“Any time a quorum worth of council members shows up at any one place, whether its intended or unintended, it’s a quorum,” said Klages. “If that meeting was not publicized following the Open Meetings Act, then it is essentially an illegal meeting.”

He also said that the city reported this issue to the W.Va. Ethics Commission in order to receive guidance.