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May 6, 2013

Council ends use of general fund debit card amid questions over mayor's use

WEST POINT — After concerns the town’s debit card was being abused by the mayor, the West Point town council took a stand and addressed the issue during its recent monthly meeting. Effective immediately, the town will no longer have a general fund debit card for use.

Council members questioned Mayor Kenneth Kilgo about the charges, which as of the end of April totaled roughly $1,500 over the town’s allocated $3,000 travel budget for the 2013 fiscal year that began last October.

Kilgo said the increase in the expenses was due to the amount of travel to Montgomery and surrounding areas to handle the town’s grant application process for its two community storm shelters and other projects such as the paving of County Road 1246.

“This is the most I’ve traveled since 2007, and there’s a reason for it,” Kilgo said. “The increase you see in those expenses, and there’s been a lot of travel, make no mistake about it, but if you go back and look at the minutes and listen, you’ll see that we talked about this grant, and talked about how we were going to administer it for our storm shelters. We were under a 90-day time frame, and had to get started.”

Kilgo added after talking with the Cullman County Economic Development Agency, local mayors, and Sherrod Consulting, he felt the town had the capacity with the current staff and the expertise to administer the grant themselves, which he said would save the town money.

“During my tenure as mayor, we have used engineering and consulting firms to administer the grants,” he said. “These firms are paid a minimum of 6 percent of total project costs for administering these grants. Our total cost to an outside firm for our $210,000 storm shelter project would be over $12,000. By administering the grant ourselves, we will realize tremendous savings overall.”

He assured the council the town would be reimbursed for the administration costs upon completion of the project.

“Due to a federal program change, all administrative costs paid by the town will be reimbursed upon completion of the project,” Kilgo said. “That includes administrative supplies, fuel, travel, and salaries, including town staff and the mayor’s salary. We’re looking at several projects, so I went out there and connected all the dots for anything we agreed to proceed with. It’s a lot of expenses, but it should be behind us now for the year.”

When asked if he could provide all of the receipts, Kilgo replied, “Yes, I’m glad you noticed the increase in expenses because it’s not like you can hide anything. I’m not here to hide anything.”

After a thorough look at the documents reflecting expenses, one council member brought attention to several transactions that occurred near the Christmas holiday. 

“You go back to December here when it started, and go to the 24th, there are two gas bills on here for debit, and another on the 26th. What was it?”

Another council member said, “You mean to tell me you were doing town business the day before and the day after Christmas?”

Kilgo said, “I’ll have to look to see what it was, but I was on the road at that time, I sure was. I’ve been out here working with the Alabama Broadband folks also, just like I have been in D.C.”

When asked if West Point was paying for the Broadband work, Kilgo said the town has eaten up some of the cost, but that it was for the town of West Point.  The council was not in favor of the work being done.

“If you don’t want me to pursue that anymore then that’s fine,” Kilgo said.

Council member Frankie Jones responded by saying, “I think what we’re telling you, Kenneth, is you’re spending too much money.”

Kilgo respectfully disagreed.

“If that’s what you think. I’m not out there wasting money. But again, I took liberty because we’re getting reimbursed quite a bit.”

Other transactions questioned were $51.16 at Olive Garden, and a transaction at Dollar General, among others.

“Who did you take to lunch?” council member Gerald Schaefer asked.

“Neal Morrison once,” Kilgo said. “Do you realize how many of these people have bought my meals?”

A motion was then made to do away with the general fund debit card.

“In my opinion, I don’t think the town needs a debit card anymore,” Schaefer said. “It’s being abused. I mean we never had a debit card until recently.”

Concerns of the town truck being driven for non-town business were also brought up. After much discussion, it was decided the truck would be parked at town hall rather than at the town clerk’s house, and that a mileage log would start being kept.

Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at agraves@cullmantimes.com

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