Friday, June 14, 2024
52.0°F

Lind facing unbudgeted expenses, errors and $1.7 million loan

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | May 17, 2024 1:22 AM

LIND — The Lind Town Council dealt with several issues during Tuesday’s regular meeting, including about $40,000 in unbudgeted expenses due to clerical errors dating back to 2008, other staff errors and a $1.7 million loan offered by the Department of Health.

The loan, applied for by city engineers Century West, would cover the cost of installing a new well at the location of the city’s non-operating Well 6. Century West engineer Dan Remmick said the DOH did not include any grant or forgiveness as part of the loan.

“It's $1.7 million; it’s a pretty significant loan,” Remmick said. “There would be impacts to the rates … I haven't broken down the dollar values on any of that stuff yet, but the offer’s there. The state wants to hear back from the town whether they intend to proceed or not, and if not they’ll strike it from the list and move down to somebody else.”

Remmick said few funding sources are available for a project like installing a city well. 

“There's a couple specific funding sources and that's generally where we hit up,” he said. “There are some others. A lot of those are for short-term grants and loans. They're for much smaller dollar values, which don't really apply for a large infrastructure (project) like a new well.”

Mayor Paula Bell elaborated on the potential rate increase if the town accepts the loan.

“(DOH was) asking if the town, if the council, wanted to consider that $28 increase to the rates and I politely said, ‘I will present it, but I would not think that that would be a go.’” she said.

Council member Robert Dew said he is against accepting the loan.

“Myself, I’m completely opposed to borrowing any money,” he said. “This town is broke. It's a poor town. We have no money and it’s not fair to hit the residents with big bills.”

Council members Jamie Schmunk and Dew said the plan would be for the town to search for grants or better loan offers rather than take a large rate increase. One community member asked if the town would run out of water before that goal is realized.

Dew said Well 8 and, to some extent, Well 7 will provide enough water capacity for the town, and the water is not in danger of running out soon.

“Everything that you plan for a town would be a year out,” Schmunk said. “If we said ‘take this loan,’ it'd be at least a year out.”

Dew said Lind residents cannot afford a nearly $30 rate increase, and that once the rates are on the bill they will likely never leave and continue to increase. He also said the residents need to be able to water their lawns, as dry grass and weeds are a fire hazard for the town.

The council took no official action on the loan during the Tuesday meeting. 

Town Clerk and Treasurer Barbara Pence then addressed the council regarding the State Auditor’s Office’s finding that she overpaid herself.

Pence said a management letter from the SAO, which is not reported in the actual findings on the audit, said Pence had overpaid herself more than $1,600 in overtime holiday pay and regular pay calculations since she was hired in 2021. During the meeting, Pence read out loud a letter she said had been approved by Mayor Paula Bell’s attorney Mitchell Heaps.

“I discovered that by adding the overpayments starting in March of 22, made to myself, Barbara Pence, and unlisted underpayments of $119.15, I show a total of $1,100.30 owed to the town of Lind, not the $1,685 that was stated in the management letter,” she said. “Upon further research with the actual time cards, I discovered the following: In 2021, I was overpaid $131.48 in overtime. In 2022, I was overpaid $214.73. In 2023, I was overpaid $322.12. Between 2021 and 2023, I was underpaid $119.15 according to the State Auditor’s spreadsheet. This brings my total owing down to $549.18 to the town of Lind.”

Pence said she has already paid back the incorrect holiday overtime, and has worked overtime in April without pay to make up the remaining difference of what she says she owes to the town. 

Switching subjects, Pence then told the council of clerical errors in the town’s reporting to the Department of Retirement going back more than 15 years that she discovered during a recent review. 

“With the conclusion of the review, it was discovered that insurance premiums were not correctly filed or paid dating clear back to 2008,” she said. “So far, those premiums total $17,745.99, with an estimated total of $26,000 more coming in additional correctional reports being filed based on the review.”

Pence said only a portion of the total fees will be paid by the affected employees. Bell explained that when city employees were hired, they were given the option to opt-in or out of the reporting to the Department of Retirement, which she said is not actually optional, which Bell and Pence discovered during the review.

Bell said the Department of Retirement refused to grant an extension or payment plan for the unpaid premiums.

The council decided to table a budget allocation for the next meeting. 

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Lind Town Clerk and Treasurer Barbara Pence addresses the council during Tuesday’s regular Lind Town Council meeting regarding the State Auditor’s Office’s finding that she overpaid herself by $1,600 since she was hired by the town in 2021. Pence said some of that has already been rectified and the remainder will be repaid.