November 21, 2014

Elyria
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Vermilion asks state to review its books

VERMILION — The state auditor’s office is going to take a look at the city’s books after city officials grew concerned that shortfalls were projected.

Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor’s office informed Vermilion Council President Fred Ostrander on Tuesday that an analysis of the city’s financial conditions would be conducted in the near future, and it will determine whether the city will be placed in fiscal watch, which requires the city’s books to be straightened out or risk state intervention.

Vermilion Council voted to seek the state’s review at a Sept. 17 City Council meeting after Vermilion finance Director Wayne Hamilton failed to clear up concerns when the city’s year-end projections were dipping into negative amounts.

Ostrander said although Hamilton maintained that everything was in order, the shortfall couldn’t be ignored.

“I honestly didn’t know where the money was,” Ostrander said. “I could not in conscience allow it to continue.”

The Council forwarded everything from minutes of  its meetings, cash statements and reports that the year-end amounts for the water and sewer funds will be more than $100,000 in the red.

Hamilton took over the job in March 2006, but blamed a philosophy more than a decade in the making for adding up to the city’s financial woes.

“This is a culmination of things over the last four to five administrations and 15 councils,” he said. “The city has been giving more in labor packages than it really had and was making more in commitments than it had coming in.”

Hamilton said he foresees a hefty increase in sewer and water rates — probably 20 to 30 percent — in the coming months to help put money back into the neglected fund.

If the state auditor’s analysis indicates the city meets one of the criteria for fiscal watch, it’ll be done so immediately and allow for Vermilion to be eligible for technical and support services from the office at no cost to the city, according to the auditor’s letter.

Hamilton said he believed the funds in question could be salvaged by year’s end; however he said he’s looking forward to having someone from outside the city take a look at how the city operates fiscally.

“Given the adversarial politics that exist here, I think it brings another voice that everybody can have confidence in,” he said. “I think good things will come out of this."

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.