Salted with Sharks

Budget Fuss: A Choppy Start to Turning the Fiscal Ship Around

In Gov't Watch, Uncategorized, Village Money Situation on February 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm

By Emily Votruba

During its regular board meeting this Thursday, February 20, the Village Council will review and most likely adopt the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014–15. At least one council member and budget committee member won’t be voting to adopt it.

“We’ve had no budget meetings,” says Jennifer Wilkins. “This budget has been prepared by the Village treasurer in conjunction with [DEP/CAP consultant] Chris Olson with no input from the budget committee, which is a violation of the internal controls policies we’re supposed to be following.”

Wilkins, along with other members of council, saw the proposed Proposed Budget 2014–15 for the first time when they received it as an attachment to an email from treasurer Laura Manville on February 12.

In the Treasury Report on Village Internal Controls, which the State issued to Elberta in October 2013, the State found that lack of oversight by council concerning expenditures, amendments to the budget, DPW fuel use, monthly accounting reports, and other financial matters constituted “material weaknesses” in our internal controls. For example, the report recommended that budget amendments be made throughout the year and final amendments be made before the end of the year. The Village council and treasurer have made a practice of reviewing and finalizing budget amendments only once—after the end of the fiscal year. Yearly budgets have been presented for adoption after at most two budget meetings. This year, there have been no budget meetings.

Wilkins, who was on the budget committee last year as well, says she has been trying to call a budget meeting since the Treasury report came out, without success. The other members of the budget committee are now Reggie Manville and Ken Holmes, appointed by Reggie Manville at the December 19 regular council meeting. At that meeting, Wilkins asked Reggie if any budget committee meetings had been scheduled. “We will be having budget meetings but now because of the situation with the state it’s hard to make a budget,” Reggie said at the time.

Wilkins contacted council member and president pro tem Robin Rommell and consultant Chris Olson about setting a meeting. On February 3 Olson responded thus:

...My best day is actually Wednesday of this week….  From what I can gather, the schedules for Reggie (games) and Sharyn (new job) make setting a mutual time somewhat difficult for everyone.  Also, I have been told that departments have not been very involved with the budgets (except possibly for Laura), and budgets were really seen as a perfunctory exercise that didn’t have much to do with day-to-day operations. The DEP essentially provides a “cost not-to-exceed” framework for the Village’s departments to work within, as far as expenses go.  Things could be shuffled within the various activity areas and funds, but the expense limits are serious (especially with the State reviewing regular monthly/quarterly reports).  There probably needs to be a workshop with the departments so they understand that the limits will need to be adhered to; and unless there is some documentation, that the revenues cannot be “matched” to meet expenses.

Wilkins says she wrote back to Chris saying she could meet Wednesday, February 5, and Olson attempted by email to arrange that meeting. Olson wrote back to Wilkins February 5 saying that the meeting had been cancelled because Laura and Reggie had commitments that evening, and Rommell had suggested rescheduling the meeting for Tuesday, February 11.

Wilkins says she asked representatives from Treasury for advice on the situation, and was told to get one other budget committee member to cosign a request for a meeting.

“I [approached] Ken Holmes and he said we didn’t need [a meeting] because the Deficit Elimination Plan was supposed to cover the 2014/15 budget…. I tried to explain to him that we still needed to have a meeting to prepare the budget because [there would be an effort] to pass the 2014/15 budget at the February meeting; he said he knew nothing about it. I later provided him with copies of correspondence that he was not receiving from the office that was addressed to all council members,” Wilkins wrote in an email to me.

Wilkins says she never heard from Holmes. As of February 19 she’d received no news on whether the Deficit Elimination Plan (containing measures affecting the budget for fiscal year 2014/15 and beyond) had been accepted by the State. Council members did however receive an email February 11 from Eric Cline stating the Village has preliminary approval on the Corrective Action Plan. “I recognize that the Village has been collecting information in preparation of implementing this plan and I encourage you to begin implementation immediately,” Cline wrote. (See the DRAFT Corrective Action Plan January 2014  here.)

Ill communication between the clerk, treasurer, council members, and community members has been a hallmark of the past few months (if not years). The Village office phone now has a generic voicemail message that doesn’t identify it as the office number. Sharyn Bower revealed at the January regular council meeting that for several weeks, the office had been having trouble with its email system—several council members were unaware of this system failure. Residents report not being able to get a hold of anyone at the office by phone. No one seems to know what the office hours are at this point—if there are regular hours. They’re not posted anywhere.

On January 24 Wilkins sent an email to Laura Manville, four other council members, Village DEP/CAP consultant Chris Olson, and Treasury reps Eric Cline and Roxanne Nicholas asking these questions:

•There were two weeks in November that you [Laura] claimed 40hour work weeks and two weeks in December where you did the same plus claimed overtime for pay week ending 12/12/13. I understand the need while Sharyn was retired only for the week prior to you resigning as Deputy Clerk, but I would like clarification and reasons as to why it was needed when she was reinstated.

•What are the hours for the Office now? Sharyn seems to be consistently Thursdays and Fridays, but it’s unclear as to when you are there.

•What is the status of Budget meetings? We are nearing the deadline and Council needs time to look over the proposed budget for 2014-15.

•Will you be attending any future Council meetings so questions can be answered or should I direct people to make inquiries via email?

•What is the status of the computers, email addresses? Are they functioning properly now or is outside help being sought? If/when the computers are down, what work are you able to accomplish?

•It is my understanding that you made a statement to Council members at the January 8th Special meeting that if your hours were cut you intended to resign by March 1st. Since your hours will be cut, Council members need to know your intentions so that steps can be made to appoint a capable replacement in a reasonable period of time. 

As of this writing, Wilkins says she has not received a response from anyone regarding these questions. A few items she asked to be added to the agenda are not on the agenda she received in her trustee’s packet today: answers to the questions above, overtime policy discussion, and Parks and Rec correspondence. She says she’ll attempt to add these to the agenda during the meeting. With that and the budget hearing, it’ll be a long one. Bring your favorite attitude adjuster.

  1. Is there a meeting scheduled for 2/20, where and when?

  2. Why the hypocrisy? In other communities people go to jail for embezzlement and fraud. In Elberta this behavior is viewed as leadership from a husband and wife focused on themselves 1st, basketball 2nd, then Elberta. 

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