Alderwoman contacts state auditor to help Vidalia

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vidalia — A Vidalia alderwoman told the board Tuesday night that she has contacted the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office about helping the town develop best practices.

Alderwoman Sabrina Doré made the announcement after a discussion of a recent lapse in the city’s health insurance coverage for its employees because of a missed payment.

The discussion happened during the same meeting at which the board adopted a resolution seeking to borrow up to $3.5 million to cover its day-to-day operations.

“We are on the very short list for (the auditor) to come into City Hall and do what is known as a better business audit,” Doré said.

“(The auditor’s office) assured me this is done often where there has been such a big change as we have seen here.”

Vidalia’s government saw the replacement of the mayor and three aldermen in July, and has significantly restructured employees since then. While the auditor’s office is working with sheriff’s associations now, Doré said, “(the auditor’s office) told me we are No. 2 on that list.”

During the discussion of the insurance issue, Mayor Buz Craft said the bill had been due July 1 — the day he and the new aldermen took office — but he had not been told about it and the town never received an invoice for it. Craft said the failure to pay ultimately fell to him, but he didn’t even know it was an issue.

When Doré later asked if the bill in question was a recurring, monthly bill, City Clerk Vicki Byrnes said it was.

“If this was a regular, recurring payment, it should have been noticed,” Doré said.

Byrnes replied that the former city accountant handled paying the insurance bills, but that duty had not been specifically reassigned since the accountant resigned earlier this year.

Alderman Tommy Probst, who also serves as mayor pro tem and said he needed to be informed of such a lapse in such a case, said he didn’t know about it until city employees started contacting him.

“I talked to people who had surgeries that weren’t able to be performed,” he said. “It dramatically affected the lives of our employees.”

Craft replied that the city is still discovering unpaid bills from the previous administration, and that there is $1 million in unpaid debt at this point.

Probst said department heads should have been notified when the city became aware of the lapse so they could have informed employees instead of having employees call aldermen for information.

“Maybe we were wrong not to relay it to the aldermen,” Craft said, though he said he had not as of Tuesday gotten a call from an alderman about it.

Doré responded that she had contacted Town Hall about the matter before, but had not reached out to Craft at that time because she knew on that day he was out of the country.

Byrnes said the town found out about the lapse in coverage on a Tuesday and it was reinstated by Thursday of that week.

Craft said the bill was paid without any extra expense to the city, and that the city would be changing from the risk management group that currently administers the town’s Blue Cross-Blue Shield program to The Hazlip Company.

When Doré asked how Craft reached the decision to contract with Hazlip, he said it was because of the company’s local nature, good reputation and ability to handle large clients.

She also asked if every Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier in Vidalia was contacted, to which he responded they had not.

During the same meeting, the board voted to adopt a resolution seeking approval from the state bond commission to borrow up to $3.5 million with a 1.5 percent interest rate to meet budget needs.

Bond Attorney Alan Offner said the application is for a budgetary loan, and is advanced only as needed.

“Because it is a budgetary loan, it has to be used to pay bills, salaries and operating expenses,” he said.

If the full $3.5 million is not needed, it won’t be withdrawn, Offner said.

In other news:

4The city’s recycling program will not do pickups today or in the foreseeable future.

Street and Sanitation Director Lee Staggs said the company running the recycling program, Concordia Metals, will no longer be accepting the city’s recycling. The next closest drop-off the city could use for recycling would be in Summit.

“The recycling program right now is at a halt,” Staggs said.

While the company won’t be taking the city’s recyclables any more, it is working to develop a drop-off location for residents who still want to use it, he said.

4The board voted to set the town’s tax millage for 2016 at 3.39 mills.

Craft said the adoption constitutes an increase by millage, but because of changes in assessments it won’t represent a dollar increase for taxpayers.

“The money amounts of your taxes are not going up,” he said.

4The board voted to advertise the surplus property sale of two motorcycles, a Ford Crown Victoria car and a Chevrolet Tahoe from the police department.

4The board adopted a resolution awarding to Womack and Sons Construction Group the waterline portion of construction for the next phase of construction at the Vidalia Port.

The winning bid was for $183,495.