By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
PRINCEVILLE — The Local Government Commission held a public hearing on the town's 2013-2014 $824,715 budget Tuesday night at Princeville Elementary School.
Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and Mayor Pro Tem Isabelle Purvis-Andrews did not attend the meeting. The town's two highest ranking officials have been absent at all the meetings that LGC has called since the takeover of the town's finances at the end of last July. The LGC, which also prepared the town's budget last fiscal year, took over the town's books because of its poor financial condition.
Commissioners Calvin Sherrod, Gwen Knight and Ann Howell were present and all three commended the LGC on the budget.
"I appreciate all you have done and all you are doing," Howell said.
The proposed budget is the lowest dollar figure in "many" years, noted former mayor and town historian James "Ed" Bridgers.
Perhaps one of the most notable items in the budget is the appropriation for a manager/finance officer position that will be filled in the second half of the fiscal year. The LGC cut both of those positions in the town's $1.8 million 2012 budget. A member of the LGC staff, Sharon Edmondson, has been operating as the town's finance officer.
Edmondson presented the proposed budget to the citizens. She said they worked hard to not raise taxes, water and sewer and garbage rates. There were also no raises for the town employees.
During the question and answer session, Sherrod asked the LGC to consider giving a raise to the senior public works employee who has been employed by the town for three years without a raise. LGC recently hired a part-time public works employee at the same rate as the veteran.
Sherrod told the LGC that the board of commissioners had voted to give the senior employee a raise.
In the area of collections, Edmondson said utility collection has improved to about $15,000 to $20,000 a month since the county took over the water and sewer. Uncollected water and sewer bills were one of the LGC's main concerns during the initial phase of the takeover.
LGC was also concerned about the town's poor tax collection rate, which remained at an estimate 75 percent in the 2013-2014 budget. Bridgers suggested that the LGC raise the percentage to 80 percent to increase the budget.
Edmondson explained that the state mandates that the amount estimated must coincide with the amount that was collected in the last fiscal year. Edmondson said the state of the town has improved since the takeover. She reported that all of the town is in good standing with all of its vendors with the exception of one. She also said the LGC is looking into repairing pot holes in the streets, cleaning ditches and other maintenance work that is needed.
After the budget issues were discussed, Knight asked the LGC could they remove Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews from office.
"They don't never come to the meeting and an important meeting like this one, they should have been here," Knight said "Is there anyway that this board can recommend that they step down."
LGC's attorney Robin Hammonds told Knight that the meeting was a public hearing for the budget and that question was one that she "could not address tonight."
Hammonds told the audience of a little more than a dozen that she is aware of an SBI investigation against the mayor and mayor pro tem for misappropriation of funds.
"We are waiting for the outcome just like you all are," she said.