Questions about bill-paying procedures raised at meeting

By Mary Hood
Fairhope Courier Intern
Posted 6/12/07

The question of whether Fairhope’s bills are being paid properly arose toward the end of the city Finance Committee meeting Monday afternoon.

Most of the meeting was spent deciphering debts in the general and the utilities fund. However, the …

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Questions about bill-paying procedures raised at meeting


The question of whether Fairhope’s bills are being paid properly arose toward the end of the city Finance Committee meeting Monday afternoon.

Most of the meeting was spent deciphering debts in the general and the utilities fund. However, the meeting gained speed and heat when Councilman Cecil Christenberry brought up a phone call he had received.

The phone call was from a vendor who had not been paid by the city. Christenberry said his first question was if he had turned in all of his paperwork to be paid.

“I was told that it had been, everything was done,” Christenberry said.

When Christenberry brought this up during the meeting, he was told that it had to have been a problem with the vendor’s paperwork, or invoice.

“I’m not 100 percent comfortable with (that) explanation,” Christenberry said.

City Treasurer Nancy Wilson said the process for paying invoices is very complicated.

“Sometimes it’s easy to have a breakdown in communication,” Wilson said.

She said that happens, especially when dealing with the city’s 3,000-plus vendors and the 1,500 to 2,000 checks they process in the span of a month.

The problem with the vendor has now been resolved, and the city faced no consequences from the mishap.

“They never cut off any selling to us,” Wilson said. “They didn’t even mention that to me.”

Christenberry said he wasn’t crying foul play at this mix-up and said he understands the process for cutting a check is difficult and lengthy.

“I know the city folks do their very best to make sure ever ‘T’ is crossed and every ‘I’ is dotted before the checks are cut,” Christenberry said.

He added that he wants to be informed on what is going on with the city’s finances and currently feels he is not.

Wilson said that city policy for paying invoices has changed in the past several years. When Wilson came into office, invoices were paid once a month and now they are paid weekly.

“We’re able to spend more time looking at each one and hopefully get the vendors paid,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the goal is to have a turnaround of five days from the point when the invoice is approved to the point where it is paid.

It was said during the meeting that bills are not being held.

During the finance meeting, Councilman Dan Stankoski advocated government transparency and Christenberry agreed with the notion.

“Even if it hurts, I want (the government) to be transparent,” Christenberry. “It’s my belief (that) if we’re totally transparent, there’s no room for rumors.”

Although this is the only in which Christenberry has been presented information directly by a vendor, he has heard of other cases where vendors are not getting paid.

“There are so many rumors,” Christenberry said. “I get so tired of the innuendos and the rumors.”

The discussion about bill paying bled over into the first several minutes of the council work session and was cut short but not before a continuance of the meeting was scheduled.

A second finance meeting will be held June 25 at 4 p.m.

Christenberry said he thinks this meeting is going to be “very enlightening, very important, and I can’t wait.”

Before the vendor issue was raised, the debt of the general and utilities funds was discussed.

An updated financial report through April 30 shows less money owed than what was presented at the last City Council meeting.

The current total of the debt in the general fund is roughly $14.2 million but will be reduced by the removal of $1.6 million in hurricane repairs and the $1.5 million city library loan. Part of the $1.6 million comes from FEMA and the $1.5 million will be handled in the next bond issue.

That is not the total, however, because $4.2 million spent on the recreation center needs to be added into the total amount of debt.

The utility fund’s total amount of debt as of April 30 is $18.2 million.

During the council meeting Jennifer Fidler, public works director, presented two items.

The first dealt with Fairhope’s C&D landfill, which only accepts waste such as paper, glass, sheet rock and other construction waste. It does not accept household trash.

There are two options for the landfill and they are either haul the waste to another landfill or extend the current landfill. This item will come up for further discussion at the next City Council meeting.

The second item Fidler presented was in regard to the National Beaches Survey. Fidler said she was contacted by the EPA and they expressed their concern over the survey. She said they felt the survey wasn’t getting proper results because beachgoers were deterred by the $8 fee for non residents.

Fidler requested the fee be lowered to $4 on the days the survey was taking place, which are Saturdays and Sundays until the end of July. Westat Inc. will pay $1,000 for each day the fee is lowered.

The city will be paid $12,000 overall in compensation.