Portage finances go deeper in red
Written by BY DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer
Thursday, 10 June 2010 08:49
PORTAGE - Bad bookkeeping has apparently put the already financially-strapped village another $10,000 in the hole.
The state-appointed Financial Planning and Supervision Commission heard at Wednesday's meeting that through April, Portage is $170,000 in debt, compared to $162,000 at the end of 2009.
"I think it's questionable whether this village can survive," said Commission Chairman Paul Marshall.
Belinda Miller, financial supervisor for the state auditor's office, said the deficits in the general and street funds are increasing.
"Even though the village has made some efforts in cutting expenses, it's not been significant enough," she said. "There are still issues. The rate of spending is in excess of what it should be."
Mayor Mark Wolford was at a loss to describe the added debt.
"I do know that we have been saving money on everything we can," he said. "I really can't explain it without knowing where we're at."
Miller said extra expenses include late charges, larger-than-expected utility bills, and some overpayments. Council, for example, is recorded as being paid two times this year, even though they were not.
The elected clerk-treasurer, Bruce Shepherd, resigned last month after completing two years of his four-year term. Council has made the position an appointed fiscal officer and hopes to hire someone next week.
Commission member Judy Amend asked if they were interviewing qualified candidates. Wolford said everyone has a financial background and is aware of the challenges.
Miller said there would still be a learning curve for any new fiscal officer who does not have a government background. She recommended hiring a visiting clerk, in addition to the new fiscal officer, who will be paid between $10 and $15 an hour.
She added that Shepherd did not do any record keeping for May. He also did not fix errors that were pointed out to him in the past.
"There's a whole host of issues we tried to get Bruce to correct and were pretty vocal about," she said.
Council President Mike Brinkman said council is frustrated that it doesn't have financial reports to view regularly.
"There really needs to be ways to deal with situations like this when people refuse to pay bills on time," he said.
Audience member Harold Yoder asked if Shepherd could be charged criminally.
"I don't know the answer," Marshall said. "Unless you could prove criminal action, probably not."
After the meeting, Wolford said he didn't believe Shepherd willfully did anything wrong.
"I just think he didn't work hard enough to keep things in order," the mayor said.
The oversight committee was appointed shortly after the village went into state fiscal emergency in April 2009. It meets periodically to review council actions and approve plans to get the village out of debt.
The main plan was to pass a 1-percent income tax that would have generated enough money to make the village solvent by 2013. It failed in May.
Marshall suggested meeting in August when Portage's books will hopefully be righted. But Wolford pointed out that there is an early August filing deadline to get on the November ballot.
Wolford said there could be a better chance of passing a .5-percent income tax.
"I don't live here, but I think getting voters to approve another levy would be difficult," Marshall said.
Another ballot issue, he said, could ask voters to choose either an income tax or dissolution.
Miller added that the previous five-year recovery plan showed that only a 1-percent income tax would get the village out of debt, not a .5-percent tax.
"The village needs to generate significant revenue," she said.
The next meeting of the commission is Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. in the town hall.