KIRAN: Decision to appoint fiscal administrator for Town of Clinton postponed

Decision to assign fiscal administrator to Town of Clinton delayed by a month

CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Fiscal Review Committee decided Monday, Feb. 18 to wait 30 more days before determining whether to appoint a fiscal administrator to take over the Town of Clinton’s finances.

A series of 9News Investigations launched an investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office into the town’s finances, specifically in regards to the town’s ongoing water issues. Auditors had to determine whether the town and mayor were able to take care of the financial concerns on their own.

Committee members wanted specific numbers on how much it will cost Clinton to resolve all the water issues, if the town can afford the cost, and whether they can manage the cost. Because that information was not available at Monday’s meeting, the decision was put off for 30 days.

In their audit, the legislator’s office reported, “As of February 13, 2019, we have not received an estimate of the cost to repair the water system.”

Mayor Lori Bell was present at the hearing with her attorney, Niles Haymer, by her side. Several town aldermen were also at the hearing.

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Clinton Mayor Lori Bell was sent a letter from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) in September of 2018 that cited 22 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. She was given 90 days to respond with plans on how to correct the issues.

LDH sent another notice in December of 2018 giving the town 30 more days to deal with the issues, with the deadline being Jan. 17, 2019 to fix everything and to get a second well, which had been down for months, up and running. At the time, only one well provided water to the entire Town of Clinton, which houses just over 2,500 people.

In January, the 9News Investigators learned the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office was investigating Clinton’s failure to maintain an acceptable public water system. LDH Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry told WAFB the town could end up in a “public health emergency” over Bell’s alleged lack of action.

Later, on Jan. 11, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera announced his office would be reviewing the town’s records to determine whether or not the town is in a fiscally stable position, or if they are in a position where they cannot afford to correct the water system problems.

LDH mailed a certified administrative order to Clinton and Mayor Lori Bell on Jan. 17, citing 16 deficiencies the town has yet to fix. The town was given until July 31, 2019 to repair any issues with both its wells, and until Aug. 10, 2019 to submit documentation showing the water system has complied with all requirements.

VIOLATIONS CITED BY STATE

  • Inadequate minimum chlorine residuals were found within this public water system during the July 1, 2018 through July 31, 2018, Aug. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2018, and Dec. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2018 compliance monitoring periods.
  • Chlorine residuals are not being sampled and recorded daily
  • The system cannot provide copies of daily chlorine residuals collected within the last three years
  • The system cannot provide copies of results for bacteriological samples collected within the last ten years
  • The water system does not have a formal cross-correction control program
  • This public water system is not being operated by a person whose competency has been duly certified by the state health officer for the type of facility and the population it serves
  • The sample tap configuration at the Point of Entry (POE) for Well No. 1 (Taylor street) consisting of two taps sharing a “T” connection and a third tap on a separate leg of the piping arrangement
  • The system has not developed and implemented a routine flushing program
  • The system has not created and maintained a record of each complaint received by telephone, letter, or electronic mail from customers or users
  • Owners, responsible parties, and/or operators of the system have not attended a training course incorporating topics concerning proper customer service, customer relations, or related matters
  • Well No. 1 (Taylor Street) is inoperable and Well No. 3 (Pine Ridge Road) is the only source of water for the Town of Clinton
  • The inlet/outlet pipe of the Elevated Storage Tank (Taylor Street) has a significant leak
  • A watertight sanitary seal is not provided on Well No. 3 (Pine Ridge Road) due to an unsealed pump wire
  • The flow meter at Well No. 3 (Pine Ridge Road) is not operational
  • There is a sinkhole next to the foundation of Well No. 1 (Taylor Street)
  • A strong odor of chlorine gas is detected when Well No. 3 (Pine Ridge Road) is in operation

Mayor Bell later told the 9News Investigators a majority of the deficiencies had been fixed and that the second well was ready to be put back online after the state’s water samples came back clear. However, LDH inspectors went out to check the violations and if the well was ready and found that not to be the case. Instead, they found four more deficiencies, including a sinkhole by one of the wells.

During the review, auditors determined though cash flow projections from the contract accountant show positive cash flow in 2019, those figures do not include costs associated with repairs of the town’s water system. When repairs are factored in, the legislative auditor’s office figures show a shortfall beginning in March of 2019, primarily due to a $84,000 water operator contract, according to the review.

The other issue is unreconciled differences in unpaid bills. Those bills include the repayment of funds improperly borrowed from the restricted Sales Tax funds by the General Fund or Utility Fund in 2018, which totaled $112,770 and $31,039 respectively at Dec. 31, 2018. Another issue is the repayment of $125,678 borrowed by the Utility Fund from the General Fund. Neither costs were included in the Town of Clinton’s 2019 budget, the legislative auditor’s office reported.

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