I-Team: Big spending problem in small LA town

SORRENTO, LA (WAFB) - A small town in Ascension Parish is taking a big hit. When two men with different ways of conducting business ran the Town of Sorrento this year, the bills started piling up. City leaders are now struggling to make ends meet.

Sorrento has a population of approximately 1,400 people. It costs them about $1.2 million a year to run the town. Finances are in pretty good shape, but some recent expenditures have led to some tough questions regarding the use of town money. Many of those questions came up following the Sorrento council's decision to hire an attorney.

Mayor Wilson Longanecker, Junior said last year the town paid that attorney roughly $25,000 in fees. This year, the fees have nearly doubled.  A huge chunk of that money went for gathering information about the town's police department which is under a broad investigation by the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.

As of September 30, the town has paid $20,680 in attorney fees for opinions and research connected to the police department probe.

"Their final fee is very similar to what we pay the entire maintenance department this year," Longanecker said.

Longanecker said the Louisiana Municipal Association, or LMA, a resource for cities and towns across the state could have provided the same information free of charge, as they do for other municipalities and have done for Sorrento in the past.

"A lot of these opinions could've been conducted by," Longanecker explained.

There was even a charge for a lawyer to prepare a town official for an interview with WAFB.

The 9News I-Team showed the invoices to LMA Executive Director, Tom McHugh. He agreed, the LMA could have done some of the work for Sorrento, but not all of it.

"Some of this appears to be both personnel matters and we would not give opinion on personnel matters," McHugh said.

Longanecker said he learned about the additional legal bills when he recently returned from a six month sick leave. He said he is not comfortable signing the checks for the research requested by then interim Mayor Randy Anny.

Anny told 9News he stands by his decision to spend the additional money for the attorneys work, but admits that some of Longanecker's concerns are legitimate. Anny said fixing it is as simple as redoing the invoices.

Instead of billing the town, he said the bill should go to the police department.

"All you have to do is amend your budget and put your line items where they need to be," Anny said.

When we 9News met with Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot, he was just hearing about the $20,000 bill about to hit his department. He heard about it, from the I-Team.

"I don't know what I can do. My budget is tight enough as it is. I just got enough to run the department. Now they are telling me I've got to pay for an investigation of my own department?" Theriot asked.

Longanecker said he has now started discussions with the town's finance committee over where to find the money, but believes they are not close to any resolution.

"If people keep on doing what's going on right now I don't see how this town can survive," Longanecker said.

Donald Hudson, an attorney subcontracted by the Sorrento town attorney, told 9News a lot of the problems facing the town of Sorrento could be solved if the town leaders would learn to communicate.

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