Martin City Council members addressed questions about bills and the city’s apparent deficit during a meeting last week.
On Aug. 27, the city council took few official actions, but members discussed
purchases at length, asking why the city is spending more money that it received.
The council approved the check register, showing bills reported to have been paid in May, June and July, but officials only provided copies of bills for July to the newspaper. The vote came with opposition from three members, Harold Case, Bonita Compton and April Gayheart.
The profit and loss report approved showed the city ended the month of July about $15,725 in the red in its general fund, while it gained about $8,000 in water and sewer.
The report showed the city received about $61,500 in income in its general fund in July, with about $42,000 coming from the city’s occupational tax. But the city spent more than $77,000 that month, the report shows, causing the deficit.
Most of the expenses, $45,300, were allotted to payroll, while another $19,000 was spent on insurance at the fire department.
Compton questioned several expenses, including instances where the same check number was recorded for payment to an employee and a $239 payment to Council Member Gary Akers for “city repairs.”
Akers told the council that he never received that payment and City Clerk Ethel Clouse said it must be a “typo.”
“I don’t know what that is. I have no clue,” Akers said.
Sharon Caudill, who served as deputy clerk while Clouse was off work recently, said it was the first time she and another employee had ever been done payroll for Martin.
Case asked whether either Akers or the employee cashed those checks.
“I never got no check,” Akers said.
“Well, it’s got you on here,” Compton said.
“I can’t help that,” Akers said.
When Compton pointed out what appeared to be instances where the exact payments were made to Advance Auto Parts in separate months, Clouse told her that it was part of a larger bill that the city was paying as it had the money. She explained that other bills are handled that way in Martin.
The council also discussed a list of employees and former employees whose cellphones are being paid per a city contract, with officials reporting that some of them haven’t worked for the city for years. Akers said he removed his cellphone from the city’s account several months ago.
“It’s no longer part of the city plan, and it ain’t been for a while,” he said.
Officials talked about the need to renew the contract. No action was taken, however.
Compton reported that the city is paying about $1,800 monthly for landlines and cell phones.
“That’s quite a bit of money going out each month, and I still don’t know where the cell phones are going,” she said.
Compton asked to see copies of several invoices for bills on the city’s check register, including $300 spent for what officials said was weedeater parts at Martin Gun and Pawn, $1,200 at Adavance Auto Parts and $2,681 spent at Hindman Tire.
Clouse reported that Martin is making payments on a $6,000 bill at Hindman Tire for police car repairs.
Compton also asked about a $385 reimbursement to an employee, and Howell told her that it was for a health insurance reimbursement. Clouse and that employee are the only two employees who get their health insurance reimbursed by the city in that manner, previous open records requests have shown, and the employee gets his health insurance through his wife’s place of employment, a private business.
“It’s where we reimburse him for insurance,” Clouse said. “For medical insurance. We reimburse it up to $385.”
“Is that everybody, or just the one?” Case asked.
“Just the ones that pay,” Clouse said.
Compton also questioned the city’s negative balance.
“And, I guess, somebody explain to me when we look over here at our balance, after we write these checks, could you tell me why it always says negative at the end there?” Compton said.
“I don’t know,” Clouse said.
Case said the city books were not like that in the past.
Compton asked why the city records show a deficit of $15,725 for July.
“In our profit and loss for the city of Martin for the month of July, we are a negative $15,725.92. Can you tell me why that we are in the red?” Compton asked.
“Because our expenses exceeds our income every month,” Clouse said. She said the city paid liability insurance for the coming year, which increased expenses.
“So, where are we getting the money to cover our checks that we are writing?” Compton asked.
Clouse reported that she holds checks when the city is low on funds.
“Well, like, I’ve got a couple of checks I’m holding,” Clouse said. “That’s not been mailed out, but they will be. And, you know, I don’t know.”
Compton asked Howell for clarification.
He said he probably has a year’s worth of checks from the City of Martin that he has not cashed.
“That’s what I say. We’ve got a lot of checks that we’re holding,” Clouse said.
Howell said he couldn’t say how long it’s been since he cashed a city check.
Compton responded, “So, we’re saying that our city right now, has zero money in general? I’ve not gotten to water and sewer yet. You’re telling me that we have $15,000 in the hole?”
Clouse said she won’t let city checks bounce.
“I won’t let a check go out and bounce. And then, just as quick as I have the money to cover it, I mail it out,” she said.
“I don’t understand that,” Compton said.
Council Member Charles Justice said the city’s accounting program isn’t working right, which prompted giggles from the audience.
“It’s just like our cell phones bills here … we don’t want people’s names out here, if it’s not accurate,” Compton said. “Folks, if we’re paying $1,500 a month, we need to know who’s got what phones and who’s don’t. No ifs, ands or buts. This is embarrassing,” Compton said.
Clouse responded, “It might be embarrassing, but that’s the list we have.”
Compton suggested employee layoffs.
“We got three people, or four people working in this office,” she said. “If we’re at a negative balance, then maybe we need to look about reducing manpower. I mean, we can’t approve something that we don’t have money for.”
Answering questions from Council Member James Reynolds, Clouse reported that most city employees are reimbursing the city for their phones. Referring to one employee who has two city phones and former employee whose phone is on the city phone list, Compton asked for proof of the reimbursements.
Akers said the city is “stuck” under a cell phone contract, suggesting that the city renew the contract and turn off phones that belonged to former employees.
“Some of those employees have left since the last contract was signed,” Akers said. “And those phones are still active. The numbers are still costing us money, but, you know, we ain’t had the phone. The phone is dead.”
Compton said, “Some are. Some aren’t.”
Gayheart suggested renewing the contract, as did others. No action was taken.
When Compton asked why there was no gasoline bill in July, Clouse said she doesn’t put the gas bill on the check register unless the bill is paid.
“But shouldn’t we have one every month?” Compton asked.
“We should if we have the money … I pay it when I get the money,” Clouse said.
Compton, Case and Gayheart opposed approval of the bills, but the motion passed with votes from the other members.
Voting to “abstain,” Gayheart said, “I can’t tell heads or tails about this.”
Compton also asked whether the council would approve a budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which began July 1. Howell told her without an approved budget, the city would revert to its 2018-2019 budget.