White Springs town manager questions use of grant funds
Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 8:18 am
By Joyce Marie Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t been on the internet or subscribe or pick up the Thursday Jasper News, the aforementioned article is something you should read in its entirety. For once, or possibly for the second time in years, an honest unbiased story unfolds. Joe for years has stated the grant money we have received has never been used for its intended purpose and now, Bill Lawrence, has questioned the council and is right.
The $40,000 in missing grant money, which was probably spent, also showed up as a deficit in the Sewer and Water account in this year’s budget when the Former Mayor, Miller, stated because of the increase they had the money for the revolving loan. I am beginning to feel that they have been doing what they see fit, not worrying as to where they take money from and they don’t even realize they are doing things illegally but would rather blame Joe and I for their misdeeds and stipulate we are “idiots”.
Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 8:18 am
By Joyce Marie Taylor email@example.com
(Editor’s note: The White Springs Town Council met Wednesday night and prior to our deadline to discuss the hiring of a new town manager following Manager Bill Lawrence’s resignation earlier this week. See a complete story on this next week.)
“A few items were added to the agenda, including a request from Councilwoman Helen Miller, who stated Town Manager Bill Lawrence wanted to add to old business a discussion on the completion of a VisitFlorida grant.
“After brief department head reports, the focus turned to old business and the VisitFlorida grant, which took up a good portion of the meeting. The grant is titled White Springs Nature and Heritage Center-USPS Pictorial Postmark Program, Miller noted.”
“This was the U.S. Pictorial Postmark program, which also provided the funding for the Florida Quilt Trail and the White Springs Florida Quilt Trail activities,” said Miller. “The grant is for $5,000 and it does list the activities that need to be funded. This is a grant where the town pays for the expenses and when it’s complete, it gets reimbursed by VisitFlorida.”
Miller said what was left to do on the grant program was to use $1,000 for marketing, as listed in the Project Budget Detail, which she said is provided on page 3 of the grant application. She asked that $1,000 be allocated to the Nature & Heritage Tourism Center account.
Lawrence noted earlier that PotashCorp-White Springs had donated $1,000 to keep the tourism center open for the month of May to accommodate the Florida Folk Festival.
Another item that needed to be completed on the VisitFlorida grant, Miller noted, was to produce designs for postcards, T-shirts and shopping bags based on the YoYo Quilt pictorial postmark, and that there was enough money in the grant budget to fund it.”
“To get the funds released or reimbursed to us, we have to complete the entire project, so I have asked Mr. Lawrence to provide the authorization to complete the project, so that all funds that have been expended can be reimbursed,” Miller told the council.
Councilman Willie Jefferson asked where the upfront money was coming from to do the project and Miller told him it would come from the economic development account.
“These are the funds that were generated for the town by performing the work for year one of the DEO Competitive Florida project,” Miller explained. “These are not revenue funds and these are not Enterprise funds.”
Jefferson conferred to Lawrence, who said he had concerns and wanted to speak with VisitFlorida Grant Administrator Susan Gale to see if the $1,000 for operating costs at the tourism center was appropriate use of the funds.
“I kinda disagree with that,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence said he was concerned about taking money out of the economic development account because it was down to $15,536.“The UF pavilion cost us $4,837… $1,475 was raised in donations, which meant we took $3,362 from that account to pay off the bill so these kids could graduate,” Lawrence said.
Miller noted after the meeting that she had allocated $1,225 of her mayor salary and raised another $1,000 in donations for a total of $2,225 for the pavilion project, and that Lawrence’s figures were wrong.
“We also have a UF subcontract for DEO in the second year of deliverables, one for the I-75/CR 136 site plan that is estimated at $10,000, and another one for the White Springs Eco-lodge planning and development at $15,000,” Lawrence advised the councilors. “Now, these deliverables we will get reimbursed, but by the same token, we signed a contract with UF to pay these when the invoices come in and I was going to pay that out of the economic development account.”
Lawrence continued, saying, “Obviously, if we’re on the hook for $25,000, we only have $15,000 in the account before we start getting reimbursed. I feel like we have more debt out there than we can pay and I’m just not real comfortable with that, but I have no problems doing what this council is asking me to do.”
Lawrence said if after speaking with VisitFlorida and being advised that it is appropriate to use $1,000 of the grant funds for the tourism center in order to keep it open for another month, then he would be okay with it.
Lawrence and Miller both noted that the deliverables for DEO’s Competitive Florida Partnership Program had to be completed by June 15, in order to seek reimbursement for funds in the amount of up to $40,000. Lawrence said he wasn’t sure how quickly they would get the reimbursement monies.
Vice Mayor Walter McKenzie asked Lawrence if there was any concern that the town would not get reimbursed from VisitFlorida and Lawrence said, “No, not to date.” McKenzie then asked Miller whose idea it was to use some of the VisitFlorida grant funds for the tourism center.
“That’s what we submitted it for,” Miller replied.
“And they agreed to it?” McKenzie asked.
“Well, yeah, they provided the funds for the project,” said Miller.
Miller said she gave Lawrence a copy of the project budget and details that morning and asked why he did not contact VisitFlorida if he had questions about the use of funds. Lawrence said he tried calling Susan Gale at VisitFlorida, but could not reach her, so he left her a phone message.
Miller noted that the grant is named after the tourism center. McKenzie said he remembered discussing the matter when the grant was originally applied for and that VisitFlorida was agreeable to the use of the funds. Miller added that they were looking for ways to generate funds to keep the tourism center open.
“That’s why it wound up in the budget to begin with,” said Miller.
“I don’t want us to say we’re worried we won’t get paid back because we will get paid,” McKenzie told Lawrence. “Those statements will come back to haunt you the next time you go to apply for a grant. If we already basically agreed what the grant was and what the expenditures were, and where they were to be spent, and we go to question that or try to change it, I’m concerned that people are going to look at that kind of behavior when we apply for future grants.”
Bullard suggested tabling the matter until their next meeting, so that they could get an answer from VisitFlorida.
When asked by Miller, Lawrence said he had no issue with the other items in the grant.
“I just want to be sure we’re playing by the rules,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Miller told him. “That’s why I presented the memo and attachments to you earlier today.”
Miller said if the council chose to do nothing, they would not be reimbursed by VisitFlorida for any of the funds that have already been expended.
After some heated discussion, where Lawrence said he disagreed with statements being made, he clarified that he was uncomfortable taking funds from the VisitFlorida grant that were earmarked for marketing and using them for operational costs of the tourism center. Brown then made a motion to table the matter until Lawrence heard back from VisitFlorida. Jefferson seconded the motion and it passed by a vote of 3-2 with McKenzie and Miller voting against.
On Monday, May 18, Lawrence advised that he received an e-mail response from the grants team at VisitFlorida regarding use of the $1,000 for operational costs at the tourism center. It stated: “William, be advised that you are correct, in that, the memo is referring to costs that are not an allowable expenditure for the grant program. The allowable costs must be specific to executing marketing programs to publicize the tourism advantages of the state of Florida.”
Citizens of White Springs, you have never believed Joe or I when we discussed the council’s misspending of funds outside of assisting the White Springs Residents. Here is proof positive from an unbiased source, a Town Manager who is honest and forthright and who the council has not allowed to stick to the budget by reason of the Former Mayor Miller’s spending habits with the assistance of Walter McKenzie to place us in this dire financial situation. There are two rules in
White Springs, Miller/Mckenzies rules and other government rules.
Karin for the blog