By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Greenville Town Consultant Jim Parrish recommended that the town establish its tentative millage rate for next year at 9.0555 mils, continuing this year’s rate, since it is already close to the maximum allowed rate of 10 mils. During the budget hearing process, the council can always reduce the rate, but increasing it would require multiple steps; the recommended rate will be used in the series of budget hearings, beginning with the regular town council meeting Sept. 8, at 6 p.m., in the Greenville Town Hall. The council voted to approve the tentative 9.0555 millage rate. Parrish will send the information to the Madison County Property Appraiser’s Office, which will include the rate in the TRIM notices sent out to Greenville taxpayers later this year.
The next agenda item, the town’s contract with Plantation Bookkeeping, an outside service hired at a time when Greenville had no administrative staff whatsoever in city hall to take care of payroll and other matters, was a subject that the council and citizens went back and forth on for quite a while. Parrish had recommended the town clerk and deputy town clerk resume the payroll duties, keeping everything in-house and saving Greenville the money it was currently paying for an outside bookkeeping service. The measure had been advised by Bob Powell, whose firm, James Moore and Company, had done an extensive audit of the town’s finances. “But didn’t the audit say we had to have an outside service?” asked Mayor Kovacherich Arnold, adding that he thought the auditing firm had specifically said that the town clerk could not make and sign checks. Parrish replied that the town clerk would not be performing both duties; they would be divided between the town clerk and the deputy town clerk, and subject to either random or quarterly checks by the auditing firm, per Powell’s recommendation. “We’re not talking about the issues that came up with the former town clerk,” he added. However, the recommendation to go back to in-house bookkeeping and save money for Greenville was at odds with the desire of several council members to keep the outside bookkeeping service, despite the extra cost of over $300 a month. “I’d like to keep it the way it is,” said Arnold. “No blame for anyone. With Plantation Bookkeeping, everything is fine.” Greenville attorney Christine Thurman responded that with Quickbooks, payroll and other accounts were basically a function of a software program that was simple and easy, and didn’t warrant paying extra for an outside service. Council member Calvin Malone spoke of “preventative measures” and “checks and balances,” several times, questioning why these were being fought against. Town Clerk Kim Reams pointed out that City Hall now has a cash register that records every single transaction conducted at City Hall. Trish Hinton, seated in the audience, added that the bookkeeping service had been hired in haste, “and then Bob Powell had to come in and clean up their mess.” Retaining the bookkeeping service was “nonsensical,” she added, something that as a citizen, she could not understand. Mayor Arnold responded that the service was simply following orders and was not to blame for the problems that ensued. Thurman attempted to explain the situation, saying that the bookkeeper had improperly consolidated several accounts, something prohibited by state statute in government accounting. Failure to properly follow state statutes had already cost the town $6000 for the audit, and now the bookkeeping service was charging the town to fix the problem it had caused. Monica Blount of Plantation Bookkeeping took the podium, saying that, “the only reason I’m here is to make sure my business is not slandered.” Stating that her business was a bookkeeping/payroll firm, she averred that she had never represented herself as a CPA. She had been called in by Greenville on an emergency basis, and she was told by one side to do it one way and by another side to do it another way. However, when asked who had told her what, she refused to name names, and said at another point that she had no problem losing Greenville as a client. “I’m not here to throw anyone under the bus,” she said. “I’m here to defend my business. It’s a good business. I built it.” More debating ensued, much of it centered on whether or not Plantation Bookkeeping should be paid $1015 for work performed to undo the original mistake, and trying to figure out when the conflicting orders were given, and who was responsible. “When did they tell her (Blount) that she was in error?” Malone asked, saying that timing was a factor. If she had not been told until near the end, he argued, then she should be paid. Council member Elesta Pritchett made a motion not to pay, but council member Barbara Dansey tried to abstain from voting, saying she did not clearly understand what the problem was. “If I had done a job, I would want to be paid for it. It’s not that cut and dry.” Another motion to approve payment died for lack of a second. More discussion and debate ensued, and another motion was made to pay. This time, the vote was three to two in favor of paying. Pritchett and Council member Al Young voted against it. Blount had already left the building at that point. Going forward, however, there was still the matter of the contract for payroll and other services provided by Plantation, including the continued correction and reconciliation for months that had not been done yet. So far, Blount had only corrected entries up through September of 2013 “You’ll get another super-high invoice,” said Thurman. Reams said she would have no problem doing the corrections and there was no reason she couldn’t do it easily. However, with more discussions about checks and balances, and a request for Parrish to see how much random checks and audits would cost, the council delayed terminating the Plantation contract and tabled that recommendation until the next meeting. “Plantation will continue to do the payroll,” said Parrish. “Until the council decides otherwise.”