Kingston meeting brings financial troubles to light
by Matt Shinall
Jan 11, 2012 | 2118 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After being sworn in as Kingston's new mayor, Ronald Casey took the opportunity to spell out the city's financial situation Monday evening.

Referring to comments made by former Mayor Dexter Jones about the stability of Kingston finances, Casey painted a bleak picture of Kingston's budget.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are not in good financial standing. This town has gone over its projected budget by more than $100,000," Casey said. "Looking at the payroll of the city of Kingston and all that the city has to pay when it's time to be paid, that puts us in pretty bad shape financially. It's not a sound financial statement by any means."

Reviewing accounts, Casey and city council members discussed expenditures and revenue sources, emphasizing the use of water department funds. Casey compared the situation to the one he found himself in during his first term as mayor, serving immediately prior to Jones, in which he faced challenges following the theft of city funds by former City Clerk Samantha Silvers in 2007. The deficit following that loss forced Kingston to sell city hall to Bartow County, from whom they currently lease the building.

"We're robbing the water fund to pay for the operation of the city, which we should not be doing, and this city is the only one in the county that is not prospering financially," Casey said. "The first time I was mayor, we were basically broke because the city had been robbed and some mismanagement. Now, we're getting close to the point where when we pay the building back, if things don't improve we may have to try and sell it again and I wouldn't want to be the one who had to do that."

During Monday's combined work session and regular meeting, the council discussed many topics dealing with city finances, including Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects, putting an end to overtime and the absence of a 2012 budget.

"We do not have a budget for 2012, our former mayor did not turn one in as we are required to do each year. What we're going to try to do is come up with a budget over the next few weeks," Casey said, asking for public input on the matter. "We'll be operating on the old budget from 2011 until we do get a budget. We'd be glad to have input from any citizens on the budget. I'm sure there's lots of areas in that budget that we could use your input."

Several items carried over to the evening's regular meeting, including a motion to remove an ordinance, which has gone unenforced for years, to automatically increase water rates annually. The provision was added while Kingston was purchasing water from Bartow County. Kingston has not followed the resolution calling for an annual 4.5 percent water increase and its removal will not affect current rates.

"We're just deleting one section that requires automatic increases in the rate, which was never enforced but it's in there," said City Attorney Peter Olson, explaining the move to remove the resolution. "Rates are not going to go up or down at this point, under our own ordinance they should have been up 13.5 percent by now. So we're simply bringing the ordinance into accordance with what the reality is, that the rates never changed."

With the observance of New Years falling on the first Monday of the month, Kingston's work session was held immediately prior to the regular session leaving the council with little time to review new material presented for several items. Tabled for further discussion was a revised employee handbook and a revised employee ordinance clarifying and updating processes relating to the hiring and firing of city employees.

The council also heard Monday, the first reading of revisions to the city's code regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages to incorporate changes approved by voters in the November referendums.

Lastly, a water conservation plan drafted by Schweitzer Engineering was approved. The conservation plan is required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for groundwater withdrawal permits.

The Kingston City Council will meet again Monday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at city hall.