Questions surround Belforest Water System's new building

By Jenni Vincent
Staff Writer
Posted 6/5/07

(Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series examining the Belforest Water System.

Next Wednesday’s articles will detail an auditor’s findings about financial problems within the system and the manner in which checks were issued …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Questions surround Belforest Water System's new building


(Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series examining the Belforest Water System.

Next Wednesday’s articles will detail an auditor’s findings about financial problems within the system and the manner in which checks were issued for labor costs.)

DAPHNE — Superintendent Steve Milstead was the first to question what was going on with a new storage building being built for the Belforest Water System.

Milstead’s questions came naturally, he said, since he visited the site each working day when checking on a water well and treatment facility located there.

The new building, located off Baldwin County 54 west, was needed to store water system materials, inventory and equipment.

It is partially enclosed, with half of the structure open so that larger machines — such as a backhoe — can be sheltered from the elements.

And even though it wasn’t part of his official duty, Milstead couldn’t help wondering about some aspects of the construction.

“The price of the building is what really made me look at it more closely,” Milstead said.

In the end, the 24- by 72-foot metal building cost approximately $44,000, according to water system records.

He wondered about that price since he had been considering a similar type of building for himself — one that was larger and cost less, Milstead said.

“That was definitely a red flag,” he said.

A closer examination of the new structure brought more questions, he said.

For example, the number of metal trusses used in the building.

“It really was pretty simple. When you come over here and look, the building only has seven trusses but in terms of materials there were 14 trusses bought,” he said.

The number of tin sheets purchased was next on Milstead’s mind.

“Sure enough, it was finally determined that there were 52 sheets of tin missing — tin that was evidently purchased but never used in this building,” he said.

None of the questionable building materials were at the site, Milstead said.

In the end, Milstead took his questions to board president Frances Rigsby, a 12-year organizational veteran who took over its reins in August 2006.

As a result, an “internal investigation” was begun that focused on questions surrounding the new building’s construction, Rigsby said.

The sheer volume of what had been purchased — as opposed to what allegedly had been used in the building — quickly caught her attention, Rigsby said.

“When you come up missing about 50 whole sheets of tin — sheets of tin that are several feet long — then you have to find out what’s going on,” she said.

Additional investigation revealed other potential questions, Rigsby said.

“We didn’t try to look at every single nut and bolt, but we did have other legitimate questions,” she said.

Rigsby and Milstead agreed they had questions about the amount and type of lumber used in the building.

“We went back, started looking at the 2-by-6s and started counting them,” Milstead said.

“In the end, I think that there were about 22 2-by-6s missing. It was another case of material being missing,” he said.

Water system records show that past president Tommy Mitchell and current secretary/treasurer Tom Whitacre signed checks payable to Simmons.

“I’ve never in my life seen bills for labor that didn’t have any detailed back up,” Lyles said. “I certainly would expect a higher level of auditing out of any board member who signs a check.”

Whitacre was present but did not reply to Lyles’ remarks.

No further checks should be issued without adequate information about the nature of the expense, Lyles said.

Although he wasn’t a board member at that time, Lyles said he is sure that other system customers — like he was then — will also be upset by this handling of finances.

“I can guarantee you that my neighbors won’t be happy with it,” Lyles said.

Improper spending of public funds can lead to serious problems, he said.

“We’ve got to get our ducks in a row and we’ve got to have detailed backup and proper approval,” Lyles said.

Simmons answered his telephone Monday afternoon, but didn’t answer questions about the project.

Mitchell did not return telephone calls to The Bulletin.