Has the day of reckoning finally arrived?
Helena-West Helena City Clerk Sandi Ramsey sounded an alarm Tuesday in an email received by The Helena World. It appears the city is going to have a rough time meeting the payroll this coming week.
“Payroll is Friday the 15th,” stated Ramsey in the email. “As of today (Tuesday) I do not have the finances to cover it. It is IMPERATIVE that the employees receive checks,” she stressed.
She went onto say that it is possible that the elected officials might not get paid if she cannot come up with the money.
For more than two years now, the citizens of Helena-West Helena have been wondering just how long the city could continue to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. It seems that day may finally be here. Over the years the city has been borrowing from various departments in order to just pay the bills and that adds to the city's growing debt.
Last month, a change in the date of payment of the insurance premiums for city employees caused a temporary lapse in coverage creating a problem for some city workers and their families during the height of the flu season.
Who's to blame for this financial fiasco? Well, I am not going to use this forum for pointing fingers because there is plenty of blame to go around. Apparently, for a long period of time a lot of city spending went unchecked. Excessive salary and travel expenses are primarily to blame.
It has all been laid out in budget audits and yet for the most part voters return to the polls and put some of the same leaders right back in the driver's seat.
Payroll is not the only financial burden facing the city. Helena-West Helena has monthly bills to pay just like a typical household. There are utilities to pay, machinery and vehicles to upkeep and tools to provide city workers such as street and sanitation workers, firefighters and police officers. They need equipment to protect them so they can “serve and protect” us.
According to Ramsey there is a little ray of hope in that anticipated sales funds in the amount of $174,000 should arrive by Feb. 25. However, she pointed out that $116,000 of that would have to go to meet the March payroll, leaving just $58,000 to cover all other expenses.
Common sense tells you that things are going to get worse before they get better.
In the meantime, 1st Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long has initiated legal proceedings to recover undocumented and illegal expenditures received including current and former city officials. Court documents did not reveal how much is owed. And following all the legal wrangling, who knows when or if that money will be recovered.
Page 2 of 2 - Indeed, the financial future looks bleak. As the problem continues to unravel it seems there are still a lot more questions than answers. For example:
• Will the city eventually declare bankruptcy?
• What happens then?
• How can you hang onto workers or attract new workers when they can't even be sure from one week to the next whether they will receive a paycheck?
• Where's the city going to come up with additional revenue?
I am not aware that city officials have addressed this issue in any of the budget talks. It certainly won't come in the form of a yet another sales tax. The politicians can hardly expect the people to vote to tax themselves again when they (the taxpayer) are already shouldering way too much of the load of this city government's fiscal irresponsibility – whether it occurred in the past or currently.
When better economic times come to other areas we can probably count on yet another major exodus from Helena-West Helena.
In the meantime, I praise and all efforts being made to get us back on the right financial track.
I admire Ramsey's stand.
“I will do what I have to do to make sure that the city employees are paid, unfortunately that may mean the elected officials will just have to wait.”
I guess wait is what we all have to do as this drama plays out.