A heated exchange erupted during the Manchester Village Council Meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 2. The debate, which was centered around shortfalls in the village’s operating budget, resulted in both the town clerk and the Chief of Police announcing their intention to resign.
Manchester operates on a yearly budget of $1.2 million. The town has slowly, yet successfully been climbing out of the quagmire of a fiscal emergency when the issue of budget shortfalls arose.
The solution for dealing with this latest financial crisis is to lay off three of the four full time police officers, leaving one full time and one part time officer.
According to Mayor Troy Jolly the town is approximately $40,000 in the red. “We had unpaid invoices from 2014 totaling $17,000 and another $10,000 we never received in fines and court costs resulting from arrests made by the police department,” said Jolly. “I’m speculating that the remaining $10,000 has accumulated over a long period of time.”
The invoices that were due, but not paid in 2014, had to be paid out of the 2015 town budget. “Moving forward we have a clean slate,” Jolly explained, but the town will have to repay that money ($17,000) in 2016.”
The 2015 town budget plans for $40,000 in fines and court costs, but this year the village has received only $30,000 of that money. Balancing the budget will require collecting what is owed to the town, a task that could well prove prohibitive.
(The Defender attempted to reach members of the village council to ascertain what might account for the remaining $10-13,000 shortage, but as of press time we have received no replies.)
A proposed five year forecast (2014-2018) created by former councilmen, Cody Wagner and Brian Church in 2013, planned for a total of $19,500 in fines and court cost per year, less than half of what the current budget forecasts.
The difference in those forecasts may well be a product of a proactive police force that has been called out over 1,600 times from Jan. 1 through Dec. 1 this year.
Police Chief Jeff Bowling admits he has been aggressive when it comes to fighting crime in the village. He and his officers have managed to make a considerable dent in Manchester’s drug trade and other unlawful activities which would precipitate a rise in the number of fines and revenue.
Chief Jeff Bowling told the Defender, “I’d just like to know where the money went, and what we can do about it. This isn’t personal, I like and respect all the people I work with.”
Bowling has made the decision not to resign from his position, “I love my job, and I love working for the people in Manchester. We’ve built up this police force, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
According to Mayor Jolly, the village clerk, Melinda Horsley did tender her resignation, and it was accepted as of Thursday, Dec. 3. Hiedi Huron will serve as interim clerk until a replacement is named. Huron currently works in Manchester’s water department. The council will discuss Horsley’s permanent replacement during their next regular meeting on Jan. 5
The members of council and the mayor all seemed to be a bit shocked by this turn of events. Jolly had praised the finance committee’s work on his Facebook page in 2013: “Since I took office in 2012 our Finance Committee has been very fiscally conservative. I trust that this will carry on into the future. This particular committee and I looked and examined the way that public money is used. I commend this Finance Committee for a job well done. We may not be out of Fiscal Emergency like we hoped, but the Auditors have been in and have promised that in the first quarter of 2014 we will be.”
Despite their diligence, they now have a current budget crisis that will require difficult and unpopular choices.
“We’re past blame, we need to fix the problem,” Jolly said, “Why weren’t the invoices paid? I don’t know, the office of the mayor doesn’t pay the bills, it’s not the mayor’s job to sign checks. We have a finance committee and the town clerk (four people) who sign the checks for the village. The bills may have come in late in 2014 resulting in their being carried over to 2015, I don’t know, but $17,000 is a lot of money to carry over from one year to the next.”
The repayment of the $40,000 in 2016 means Manchester residents will not have the same level of police protection.
“In the past four years the police department has come a long way,” Chief Bowling remarked. “We all work together well, it was disheartening to know there’s no money to support us. In a fiscal emergency we try to do our part to help. I’m not putting fault on anyone.”
The next Manchester Village Council meeting will be held on Jan. 5 in the village’s Community Building.