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‘Ask Me No Questions … ‘

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October 20, 2011 by wcobserver

The Water Commission paid back a portion of the $25,000 bailout they received from the West Fork General Fund in May of this year. A photocopy of the $15,000 check was included in the councilmember’  packets just in case there were any doubters. The remaining $10,000 is to be paid back next month according to the person in charge of water and sewer, Michael “Butch” Bartholomew.

The council received the news of the repayment during the utility report at their October meeting. No one made a comment. No one asked a question, not even Council Member Charlie Rossetti, who is usually forthright in exhibiting his question-asking prowess.

Evidently, bringing the water loss due to leaks down from 42 percent to 16 percent and raising water rates saved the day.  Everything is just wonderful. Or not.

There are a couple of questions that went unasked that could clarify the current financial situation in the water department and also be useful in understanding why a bailout was needed in the first place. Since neither the Water Commission nor the City Council is asking these questions, we will.

What about the nearly $40,000 transferred out of the utility bond fund? The city’s 1973 bond fund and an associated depreciation fund (“sinking fund”) lack the covenant-required money it is supposed to have in reserve. That account should have half of the needed $26,000 bond payment that will be due in December. In June, when the rate increase was being discussed there was $1,057 balance. In March of this year $8,000 was transferred from the bond fund to the utilities’ operating expenses. Money earmarked for the bond reserve was diverted to keeping the water and sewer department functioning.  No water commissioner or council member seemed interested in asking “Mr. B” how he planned to make the December bond payment.

Then there’s the other question that remains unasked; where did that quarter million dollars go? In 2006 the water department’s year-end cash was $225,449. By May of this year the balance was so low that City Treasurer/Water Department Secretary Kristie Drymon made an unapproved, after hours transfer of $10,000 from the General Fund to the Water Department operating fund in order to make payroll – at Mr. B’s instruction. Somewhere in all that management meltdown was also the issue of $6,836 in past due invoices, some dating back to 2010.

There’s more.

At the public forum held at the community center on June 14, Mr. B presented a 14-point “Water and Wastewater Utility Development Plan,” which explained how he planned to improve and provide accountability to his department. The plan was unmeasurable, without a time line and laughably vague. (Example: Item #12 – “Do all things necessary to provide for successful operation of the ​​Water and Wastewater Utility”) That was five months ago. Has anyone asked Mr. B how ​​he’s doing with implementing that development plan?​

When asking for these important clarifications, perhaps we should remember playwright Oliver Goldsmith’s famous lines: “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.”

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