Council holds special meeting over budget

by Charles Gerian

The Blackwell City Council met Thursday for a special budget meeting that lasted roughly an hour and a half. Chief Financial Officer Frank Crawford answered questions from Council members as they discussed Blackwell's financial future.

“Everything is running smoothly,” Crawford started. “We're not making fistfulls of money, and we're not losing fistfulls of money. We're rolling right along.” 

Crawford explained his personal philosophy: “You are not here to hoard money.” That ties into his statements when he was first brought on as CFO over the summer. He said he was going to attempt to consolidate Blackwell's various funds and accounts that have been accruing cash or have been stagnant with cash for years, in some cases dating back to the 1990s.

Crawford further explained to the Council in his opening statements that the City of Blackwell needed to have enough money to get the city through the year, along with a cushion should anything disastrous happen that could leave the city without a sustainable income-to-spending ratio. One example is that of a natural disaster such as the 2019 floods in May. 

According to Crawford, once the city’s annual audit is complete, is to finally close out about half of the 33 accounts the city has, and narrow them down to roughly 15 for ease of accounting. 

Crawford and City Manager Janet Smith are also working on a spreadsheet to examine past utility increases. They will examine why those increases took place in an attempt to “go back to build forward.” The goal is to analyze the last five to ten years to determine why increases were needed, and the reasoning behind the utility increases in 2018 which saw water go up 37 percent, sewer increase 35 percent, and electric went up 10 percent for customers. 

“We want to see why we had rate increases in the past, to see how we got here,” Smith said. “We are working on these statistics now.” 

Councilman Jon Webb then asked Crawford: “How could $4 million in Bethany just fall through the system?” 

During previous meetings, even last week's Council meeting when Crawford himself wasn't present, Webb asked about $4 million from Bethany that seemingly went unaccounted for during or shortly after Blackwell City Manager’s (Smith) tenure  there. Crawford explained that it was a simple answer: There was never $4 million to begin with. 

“Bethany worked off a number that simply didn't exist,” he said. “They carried forward a number that wasn't real when they were planning their budget. That $4 million isn't missing because it was never real. It was the result of a bookkeeping error from a previous CFO that was there. That’s all there is to it.” Crawford is currently working with Bethany to help resolve these and other financial issues. 

Satisfied, Webb had no further questions. No other members had any either, and the meeting was adjourned.