Updated Thu, May 22, 2014 11:23 am
Representatives from the State Auditor’s Office met with officials in Trimble Wednesday morning to discuss the first steps of creating a financial recovery plan for the village, which was declared to be in fiscal emergency last week.
The village has been struggling to regain a positive budget balance since former fiscal officer Debra Berry embezzled more than $62,000 from the village. Berry pleaded guilty in November 2010 to grand theft, forgery, tampering with records, theft in office and securing writings by deception. As The Messenger reported, she was sentenced to four years and 11 months in prison, but the prosecution agreed not to oppose judicial release after a year was served. Berry was released from jail in January 2012 and placed on five years of community control.
Trimble Mayor Doug Davis had requested that the state auditor analyze village finances, which ultimately led to the emergency declaration last week.
On Tuesday, Trimble Fiscal Officer Roger Hooper said that in addition to the funds stolen by Berry, the village also received heavy fines and fees for unfiled documents, which were the responsibility of Berry. The Messenger previously reported that Davis said the total impact of Berry’s actions on the village was around $100,000.
“When you think about it, $60,000 doesn’t sound like a lot for a small village, but when you take into consideration that our annual budget is around $140,000, it’s quite an impact,” Davis said Tuesday.
While meeting with representatives from the state auditor’s office, Davis said that the village has its spending under control — noting that after the discovery of the embezzlement, no village workers received a paycheck for about six months, including the village solicitor. Davis said that lack of revenue is the biggest problem facing the village right now. He said that there are several property owners who are delinquent on their property taxes, which takes a toll on the village’s revenue stream.
Davis added that major flooding in the village in 1998 and 2004 left the village with about 45 empty homes, meaning taxpayers moved out of Trimble. According to the last census, Trimble has just under 400 residents.
“We have a lot of older people in town and we can’t just throw on taxes. Plus they have the school levy now,” Davis said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get grants to help fix streets and things like that.”
Davis said that Trimble needs revived so that people will move to the village, creating more tax revenue. He said he hopes that plans to build more Habitat for Humanity homes will help.
“It’s going to take years to do this,” he said.
Robert Burlenski of the state auditor’s office told Council Tuesday morning that the village will have to find unique ways to increase revenue. In the meantime, he said it’s vital for the village to keep spending as low as possible in order to have extra funds to pay the village’s debts.
“The main goal is to whittle down the deficit,” he said.
The state auditor’s office will provide financial supervision for the village during the fiscal emergency. Village officials are now tasked with developing a financial recovery plan within 120 days. According to the state auditor’s office, the financial recovery plan is “intended to be a detailed blueprint identifying the specific steps the local government anticipates taking, when the steps will be taken, and the authority that authorized the local government to take the steps.”
Burlenski told Council that the village’s debts don’t have to be completely paid off in order to move out of fiscal emergency, but that payment plans must be put in place to pay off the debts.
“The goal will be to get you as far along as possible in the next two years,” he said.
If the village fails to submit a timely financial recovery plan, the village’s general fund expenditures will be limited to 85 percent of the prior year’s expenditures.
Trimble will continue to be in fiscal emergency until the objectives of the plan have been met, a non-adverse five-year forecast has been prepared, an effective financial reporting and accounting system has been implemented and the state auditor’s office issues its termination analysis.
As previously reported, that state’s financial analysis of the village showed a deficit fund balance of $157,513 at the end of 2012 and a deficit fund balance of $164,146 at the end of 2013. The analysis also showed that accounts payable from Trimble’s general fund exceeded available fund balances by $45,163 at the end of 2012 and by $45,329 as of Dec. 31, 2013.