RW Council dips into savings

RIDGEWAY – One of Mayor Charlene Herring’s agenda items at last week’s Ridgeway Town Council meeting brought attention to Council’s new habit of earmarking or spending money (more than $113,000 since June) from a capital improvements fund that does not exist. Another such expenditure popped up last week.

Ridgeway, SC

“When we made our capital improvements list this year, Mr. Porter reminded us that the exterior of the teacherage needs painting,” Herring told Council members. But she said the painter said repairs must be made before he could paint.

The only bid for repair work on two porches came in at $5,675 which would include repairing and replacing the beadboard ceilings, repair doors, windows and trim and replace screen and lattice on both porches.

“We have the funds in capital Improvements…or whatever,” Herring assured Council, dismissing the fact that the town has no capital improvement fund. “So do we have a motion to approve this?”

“We talked last summer about holding back on expenses until we get our water system right,” Councilman Don Prioleau said. “Let’s get our finances in order, then think about something like this.”

“If you look at our budget, we have money for this,” Herring insisted.

As Prioleau tried to make his point, both the mayor and Councilman Doug Porter interrupted.

“We have the funds,” Herring insisted, “based on the (bank) account and on the consultant we brought in. We have more money than we thought we had.”

Councilman Heath Cookendorfer agreed with Prioleau.

“You’re talking about spending money on something that’s cosmetic,” Cookendorfer said, questioning whether the Town should fix up the exterior of the building without knowing how much it would cost to restore the interior.

“It’s like putting lipstick on a pig,” Cookendorfer said. He then guesstimated at the cost of the restoration.

“Ten years ago, we were told it would only cost $35,000 to restore the inside,” Porter said.

“Do you have a report saying that?” Cookendorfer asked.

“That’s what I’ve been told,”

Porter said.

At Prioleau’s suggestion, Council voted to table the item until more information could be gathered.

The current spending spree stems from the June, 2017 Council meeting when Herring brought in Larry Finney with Greenwood, Finney & Horton Certified Public Accountants to prepare the Town’s budget for fiscal year 2017-18. Finney OK’d taking the $400,000 that Ridgeway received from an insurance settlement and another $200,000 in savings from other sources and transferring $175,000 of the roughly $600,000 into the general fund and $200,000 of it into the utility fund for a rainy day. The slated projection, he said, would be $185,000 left in unrestricted funds. With $60,000 budgeted for Pig on the Ridge and the Arts Festival, that $185,000 would be trimmed down to $125,000 along with $104,000 in the utility fund. The total, $229,000 is what Finney said the Town would have available to spend, but he stipulated that those funds should be spent on one-time purchases.

While Finney conceded that would cause the Town to be in a much tighter financial condition, he suggested the Town could rebuild its savings by raising water and sewer rates as well as business license fees and millage rates. Those rates and fees were subsequently raised.

Since June, the Town’s financial reports document that, of the $229,000, Council has made more than $113,000 in purchases/earmarks, leaving a balance of $116,000 available to spend.

The purchases/earmarks since June include Town Hall painting ($4,700), Town Hall shutters ($3,150), railroad purchase/survey/legal fees ($40,000), legal services associated with removing Town Clerk’s dog from town hall  ($6,022.91), security cameras ($6,900), maintenance building ($30,000), welcome center air and desk from H-Tax funds ($4,000), Christmas events from H-Tax funds ($2,000), Town Hall deck maintenance ($450) and part-time administrator David Hudspeth ($16,000 for 30 days of work).

“There are some things you’ve approved since you did the budget that were not included in the budget,” Hudspeth reminded Herring in addressing the above list. During the Nov. 9 Council meeting, Hudspeth suggested Council would need to amend the budget at the December meeting to reflect this spending.

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