FINANCES UNDER FIRE: Questionable numbers lead to heated town council meeting

SOUTH WHITLEY — An error in the amount of $160,000 has caused South Whitley Town Council President Tony Starkey to scratch his head. Clerk Treasurer Bob Gould informed the council at Tuesday’s meeting of the error. “There are erroneous numbers in the computer system that showed we had $160,000. We didn’t have that money. I don’t know where that dollar amount came from.”Gould said when he discovered the error, funding categories needed to be redistributed and the $160,000 had to be deducted from various spending accounts. With tempers flared out of frustration, Councilman Steve Smith said, “It is my understanding that the council set the budget and you (Gould) operate within that budget. If transfers need to happen, we approve it.”It was the funding report that left Starkey confused and searching for answers that were not readily available. He asked Gould, “If we make changes to move money to fund other categories, do we have enough to cover the appropriations for the rest of the year?”Gould could not answer that question confidently. Instead he said, “That all depends on what you approve to spend. I can’t say for certain.”Starkey went on to push for an answer. He said, “The transfers you are proposing are out of capital improvements and going into operations. Are we not budgeted for operations? Do you believe the budget is put together so that next year we have enough to cover these things?” To that Gould said, “I think we are OK.”With new members of the town council coming on board at the beginning of the year, Starkey wanted a clear picture of the town’s finances. He had requested Gould to put together various reports in an effort to explain, in detail, the spending categories and the amounts designated in those categories. This information has proved necessary in recent meetings as the council has had to decide whether or not there were funds for projects such as road work and paving.Gould said, “I worked hard to get these reports to you. It was ‘do it now or you’re done’ basically. I had your ultimatum and I tried to get this together quickly.”Even though the reports were made available to the council, other numbers still needed to be factored into the overall financial picture of the town. An additional $800,000 held as a type of savings for the town, was not factored into the budget. At the same time, Gould told the council the checking account held for the town showed $17,000 unable to be reconciled against the bank’s statement. Gould said, “At least this shows in our favor.”“I want to be sure we can wrap this up,” said Starkey. “Although you’ve made progress, some things still don’t add up.”Gould conveyed to the council that the work load was immense. He said, “I am using my time at home to find this $17,000. There are a lot of reports to go through and reconcile.The complication in the town’s accounting grew when Gould reminded the council of the delinquent balance the town owed energy contractor Duke Energy. “We were three months behind at the end of last year. We paid a lump sum to bring us current with Duke. That set us back right off the bat at the beginning of the year,” Gould said.Starkey asked if having an outside group, devoted to auditing and balancing accounts, would be worth consulting. Gould said, “I figured I had a good grasp on things. I am answering a lot of your questions now, but there are still some things I don’t know.”Gould had proposed that the council approve transfers that would stabilize three line items. However, Starkey did not feel comfortable approving the transfer with so many questions surrounding the numbers.“If you don’t approve the transfers and the accounts go into the negative, don’t come to the next meeting and blame me,” said Gould. “It comes back on me if we have negative funds.”Councilman Steve Smith said, “It took more than two weeks to get here. You’re gonna have to let us have some time with this.”Gould fired back, “This part is simple. You can approve the transfer. You vote yes or no. Again, when it goes into the negative, it’s not going to come back on me.”Starkey closed down the heated discussion saying, “I will take the responsibility. Put it on me.”