The Winnsboro Town Council declined to approve the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget because of the recently closed swimming pools.
The Town Council acted on the budget Monday night.
Councilman Jerry Johnson made the motion to approve the budget with councilman Keith Berry seconding it. When the vote was called, Berry voted with councilmen Tyrone Coleman, Eddie Dunn and Rex McCarthy on voting no on the budget. Johnson was the sole yes vote.
Winnsboro Mayor Sonny Dumas and the majority of those in attendance voiced their disapproval of the Town Council’s decision.
“This is the best budget we have had in eight years,” Dumas said. “I’m accepting (the decision) because I am the mayor, but it is not good. In January, we said we were going to make some adjustments and those adjustments were made. It was not made by one, but made by the team I selected, and it is a damn good team.”
Town Council members cited the closed swimming pools and timing as their decision to vote down the measure.
Murphy and Berry pools were closed for the summer after Alexandria-based engineering firm Meyer, Meyer, LaCrois and Hixson Inc released a report detailing repair and replacement costs totaling some $230,000.
Erosion underneath portions of the concrete floor caused major cracks in both pools. Additionally, termite damage in bathroom areas, leaking plumbing and code violations plague the popular summer destinations owned by Winnsboro.
There will be consequences if a budget is not passed.
If an operating budget is not passed by July 1, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor may mandate the Town of Winnsboro to operate with 50 percent of the prior year’s budget, said Winnsboro CPA Doyle Hassell who played an instrumental role in creating the budget.
“What you may not be aware of is that you have repeated violations in the past,” Hassell said. “The past administration has repeated violations in the budget act. We don’t have a budget now. The legislative auditor will probably call me in the next week or two and ask me about this budget, and if we don’t have it passed then it’s going to be hard to get any state funding. Keep that in mind.”
Legislative auditors have been calling and checking on the progress of the budget, Hassell said. After reviewing the new budget, auditors were “excited and happy the (proposed) budget was straight.”
Hassell commended Cal Pierce, Winnsboro’s budget manager, for the work he performed on the proposed budget.
“I don’t think you know the depth of what Cal and his team had to do to get the books back straight,” Hassell said. “That was probably one of the worse messes I have ever seen in my life. Our goal was to have (the budget) straight in a year, and we got it straight.”
Dunn said his nay vote was not aimed against anyone.
“I’ve sat in the finance committee, and I told Julia, Cal, Doyle and everybody involved I was thankful for all their work,” Dunn said. “The way I voted was not a shot or anything negative against anybody involved. I just think it was broke down from the beginning on the timing, and we mentioned that a couple of months ago. I agree with the mayor with everything he has been saying up to this point, but it is one of those things. I am not necessarily against the budget. It is just how I feel at this point in time, and I do feel like we are on the right path.”
Coleman said his nay vote came from the pools not being funded.
“Not funding the pools was the reason I was a no vote,” Coleman said.
Berry seconded Coleman’s statement about his vote against the budget.
“I am concerned about the swimming pools not being funded in the budget,” Berry said.
Johnson questioned Dunn’s statement on timing.
“They are all saying when this was brought up the timing was bad,” Johnson said. “I guess Coach Dunn, and I looked at it different. I thought we were in agreement. For eight years they had this problem with the pools, and for eight years they did nothing. When we took office we had money to repair the pools, and we could’ve done anything we wanted to do. But, we had to take that million dollar CD and pay off all of the past administration’s bills. I just can’t see holding this over somebody’s head because he didn’t do what you wanted him to do, and we are not going to vote for this budget. We are going to have a lot of explaining to these people because we are operating on a 50 percent budget. They are going to ask why are people getting laid off because we don’t have enough money to pay the salaries. I thought we were elected to serve the people.”
McCarthy had no comment on the budget.
The proposed 2019-2020 operating budget was tabulated using “historical data to predict future revenues and expenses,” Dumas said
The 70-year-old Murphy Pool and 50-year-old Berry Pool were luxuries instead of necessities such as water, sewer, garbage and citizen protection, Dumas said.
“I don’t know a man or a woman that operates a family and goes to the grocery store and buys a candy bar before he buys milk and bread,” Dumas said. “That is where we are and that is what we are going to do. Regardless of how you feel and what you say, I know people worked on this budget tirelessly. These are the sacrifices we are going to make.”