Enterprise fund helps pay the bills

Published 9:03 am Tuesday, February 16, 2010

AHOSKIE – The town has answered.

Last week, this newspaper printed a story regarding two Ahoskie businessmen questioning the reason why town officials have moved in excess of $2 million from its enterprise fund to the general fund over a combined three-year period.

This latest round of questioning raised by two Ahoskie businessmen is part of a months-long debate on the heels of the town raising water and sewer rates in July of last year. Stan Dixon of Dixon Cleaners on Main Street and Hal Daniels, whose son, Henry, owns five businesses in town (two car washes and three laundromats), continue to address the issue.

At the Feb. 9 meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council, Dixon and Daniels each questioned why a combined $2,034,294 has been transferred over the past three budget years from the enterprise fund to the general fund.

According to figures Daniels said he received from Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond, nearly $900,000 of the money transferred between the two funds was used to pay salaries.

“But whose salaries,” Daniels inquired at the meeting. “I’ve asked that question, but nobody seems to have an answer.”

An e-mail sent to the News-Herald yesterday (Monday) by Hammond perhaps answers Daniels’ question.

The breakdown of the enterprise fund transfer is used to pay 50 percent of the annual salaries of town employees directly involved with the operation of Ahoskie’s water department and wastewater treatment plant, according to Hammond’s e-mail. Those employees include the town manager, the public works director, assistant public works director, finance clerk, two utility clerks, a mechanic and an electrician.

According to Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn, the salaries are based on the time the aforementioned town administrators/employees spend on water/sewer services or addressing issues pertaining to those services.

The remainder of the annual salaries are covered by the town’s general fund, Blackburn said.

Additionally, money transferred from the enterprise fund to the general fund is dispersed to cover other water/sewer costs. They include vehicle payments, gas for vehicles when used for water/sewer services, electrical and heating fuel costs for the wastewater treatment plant, computer leasing, IT support, insurance, office supplies/printing, building lease, telephone service, administrative costs, out-of-town travel associated with enterprise fund issues and any other costs that are related to the enterprise fund.

“It takes money to operate the water and sewer departments and the money we use to pay those bills, to pay those salaries, comes from the enterprise fund,” Blackburn said. “Just recently, we had to travel to Raleigh for a meeting related to a water/sewer issue. The travel costs for that trip will be covered by the enterprise fund.”

Addressing the claim that town officials are not using enterprise funds as they are intended, Blackburn said that was not the case.

“There are no improprieties on our part,” she stressed. “We have very stringent audits conducted annually on each and every single dime that the town is responsible for. We are reviewed by the League of Government; we have many people looking over our shoulders to make sure that things are done the right way. We wouldn’t have it any other way…we want to make sure it’s right.”

Blackburn said that the claims of town officials moving money illegally is, “someone else’s agenda.”

“People need to realize that we have to govern for the good of the entire town, not just for one or two,” Blackburn noted. “I understand their (Dixon, Daniels) position, but if we give them the break they are seeking (on their monthly bills) because they operate a water dependent business, then what does that say to an older citizen here in town living on a fixed income?”

Compounding the issue is the fact that Ahoskie raised its water/sewer rates in the midst of a national economic crisis.

“The timing was not the best in the world, but we have no other choice if we want to see Ahoskie have the opportunity to grow,” Blackburn said. “Everyone’s profit margins have decreased in this current economy.”

She closed by saying, “We’ve been playing catch-up with water and sewer since I became Mayor and it’s been a painful process, but we now feel we have a vision for our water and sewer needs for the future.”