ST. JOHN | To meet this month's deadlines, the Town Council approved two major financial measures at a recent meeting, but not until some council members challenged Clerk-Treasurer Sherry Sury about how the information was distributed to them and the transactions themselves.
This was the latest in a series of disagreements between the council, who hired a private recording secretary in September, and Sury, who has provided official meeting minutes as well as handled the town’s financial matters since her first term of office began in January 2003.
At issue were a resolution for additional appropriations and an ordinance authorizing tax anticipation warrants.
Additional appropriations resolutions enable municipal councils to authorize spending money that’s available but not earmarked in a specific fund or needs to be transferred from one budget fund to another to cover expenses.
In Lake County, tax anticipation warrants have been sought by municipalities for nearly a decade to make up for property tax revenues that weren’t distributed on time. Recently, Lake County has been distributing those revenues in a timely manner.
Prior to the additional appropriation resolution’s public hearing on Nov. 29, Michael Forbes, the council president, and Mark Barenie, its vice president, questioned Sury about the timing of the publication notice, when they received the resolution documents and why the resolution was needed.
Sury said the notice of the public hearing was published on Nov. 19 in local newspapers.
“I’m a little disappointed that the notice was published on Nov. 19 and today is when we received this information,” Forbes said.
“You all get fund and appropriations reports monthly. If you looked at your reports, it shouldn’t be a surprise,” Sury responded.
“That’s a bit of a stretch,” Barenie said.
The council passed the resolution to meet last Friday's state deadline because the next Town Council meeting isn’t until Dec. 20.
The timing of documents and need for tax anticipation warrants also came under scrutiny.
Sury said in working with the town’s financial consultant Carl Cender, it was determined that the town might not have enough cash to pay all the bills before the December property tax distribution.
The amount of the tax anticipation warrant needed was estimated to be between $875,000 and $1 million, said Town Manager Steve Kil.
Town Attorney David Austgen drew up the ordinance authorizing the temporary loans through tax anticipation warrants with an amount not to exceed $3.275 million at a maximum interest rate of 6.5 percent.
That amount and interest rate is more than would be expected, Austgen said.
“I don’t want this (the use of TAWs) to be a common practice,” Forbes said.
He and Kil said St. John has experienced an uptick in funds from fees.
“There has been an extraordinary amount of miscellaneous revenue this year,” Kil said. “We’ll be getting $440,000 from Lake Central for building fees.”
There’s also $1.6 million unused in the town’s cumulative sewer fund that could be loaned to the general fund, according to Forbes.
Austgen advised the council that if the tax anticipation warrant ordinance wasn’t passed that night, the chance to bolster the general fund would be lost because of the state deadline.