The town of Sterlington is not headed to bankruptcy, the town’s fiscal administrator says.
In spite of the town’s financial woes, the town’s finances can be wrangled into solvency, though it could take some time, according to I.M. “Junior” Shelton Jr., of Greenwell Springs.
Shelton introduced himself as Sterlington’s fiscal administrator during the Sterlington Town Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night. He referred to two possible scenarios for Sterlington: a budget balancing revenues and expenditures, or bankruptcy.
The latter scenario was not an option, he said.
“That is not on my radar,” Shelton said. “It makes no sense for this city to be unincorporated. If you do, Ouachita Parish will forget that you’re up here.”
After the meeting, Mayor Caesar Velasquez commended Shelton’s work thus far.
“He has been working hard to find answers, and I believe the town can come out of this financial hardship,” Velasquez said. “We are all ready and willing to bring Sterlington out of this.”
Shelton began work as the fiscal administrator last week, after Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Sharp signed an order appointing Shelton to the position.
The order was requested by the state Attorney General’s office on behalf of the state Fiscal Review Committee.
Shelton is a realtor and served one term as mayor of Central, the second largest city in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The state Fiscal Review Committee voted in February to place a fiscal administrator in Sterlington to take full control of the town’s finances and operations in light of its debt load of some $20 million.
The town has a population of some 1,600. The Fiscal Review Committee’s members include Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, First Assistant State Treasurer Ron Henson and Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles.
After the Fiscal Review Committee’s vote in February, state authorities allowed Sterlington officials to continue managing the town’s finances. That changed when Sterlington missed a debt service payment of more than a couple hundred thousand dollars in June.
“There is reason to believe that in the event a fiscal administrator is not appointed to assist the Town, that the citizens of the Town and State will be deprived of essential services all to the detriment of their health, safety, and welfare and to the continued operations of the Town in general,” stated the AG’s petition for a fiscal administrator.
During his time as fiscal administrator, Shelton will provide a report to state authorities on his progress toward making Sterlington solvent again.
As previously reported by The Ouachita Citizen and noted in recent audits of town finances, Sterlington racked up millions of dollars in debt in an attempt to launch a water system that remains non-existent, pay the cost of private developers’ residential developments, engage in failed lawsuits and build a premier youth sports complex. Sterlington officials also illegally used bond proceeds, or dedicated funds, to cover routine costs, legal bills and other expenditures.
In an apparent reference to some of Sterlington’s questionable past, Shelton indicated his job was solely focused on Sterlington’s current finances.
“I’m not here as an auditor to look for wrongdoing or to turn somebody in,” Shelton said. “My job is to make this a fiscally sound city again.”
“As dire as it sounds, I am very optimistic,” he added.
According to Shelton, a fiscal administrator might assist a municipality for a year. Sometimes the work took 18 months, he said.
“You didn’t get into this right away, and you’re not going to get out of it right away,” he said.
“I promise you we’re going to make it.”
The state Legislative Auditor’s office is currently conducting an investigation of Sterlington for its questionable use of funds.