Bear Creek financial situation comes under scrutiny
When Daniel Green accepted a city councilman position in nearby Bear Creek in November 2016, he said he had no knowledge about the city’s financial state. Now, after research and digging into the city’s ledgers and bank records, Green said he has noticed discrepancies in the funds and thinks it’s time for the public to know where the city lies financially.
The main area in which Green said the city’s finances don’t line up is the Twin Forks Campground, which is part of the Bear Creek Development Authority.
“The parks and rec, the lake – it’s our biggest resource, and we don’t use it very well,” Green said.
After a few months in office, Green said he noticed the city’s finances weren’t being discussed or brought to the table at city council meetings. Being a new council member, he said he wanted to know where the city stood financially. According to Green, town clerk Ava McCurley agreed to show him the records, but they weren’t up to date.
Green said he proceeded to review records from the previous fiscal year up until that point in 2017 in an effort to learn where the city had money coming in and what the city’s expenses were.
“I wasn’t looking to find anything. I just wanted to know where we were financially, and nobody seemed to know,” he said.
In Green’s review, he said he noticed the money from the campground wasn’t adding up. Twin Forks Campground has 80 available camping spots, and at the time, the rental cost was $275 a month. According to Green, the campground stays full pretty much year-round, but for that fiscal year, the income was only showing an average of 56 campers per month, instead of around 80.
“Never did we have a deposit that showed we had full occupancy. Even in July, when we were at full occupancy plus some, including the tents, we were only showing a fraction of the income that we should have,” Green said.
The math didn’t add up, according to Green, and he said he asked Mayor Connie Morrison for an executive session at the next city council meeting.
But the city’s finances aren’t a problem, Morrison said.
“We’re like every other small town. We have some debt, but we’re not as bad off as some people believe,” Morrison said. “It’s easy for people to throw out accusations when they haven’t even seen the campground receipts.”
“I’m not accusing anyone of stealing, but I think there’s mismanagement,” Green said.
Two executive sessions were held, but according to Green, no decision was made to address his financial concerns.
“Our records are audited every year,” Morrison said. “We’ve never had a finding against the town of Bear Creek. There’s an audit going on right now, and I feel like the results will be as they should be.”
In July 2017, Green said he asked McCurley for the general ledger report for April-June, but she could only give him April and May because June wasn’t complete yet. Green said this concerned him because the general ledger is something that is supposed to be kept up to the minute. According to Green, it wasn’t until August 2017 that he received the June ledger.
When he was reviewing the May ledger, Green said he discovered the only deposit made from the campground was for around $2,900. The max capacity for the campground per month is $24,000. At that time, the campground was nearly full, according to Green.
Again, Green went to Morrison and requested she look into the matter. Morrison told Green the Thursday before the second council meeting of the month there was actually around $19,000 in the ledger for May. When Green brought it up at the next council meeting, Morrison produced a printed copy of the ledger that showed $19,000 amount. Green said he then compared the general ledger and the bank statement for May and discovered they didn’t match up.
“Since 2008 we’ve only had one year where the campground funds were off, and that’s because the campground manager and her husband were sick and in the hospital at the time,” Morrison said.
A couple of weeks ago, the Bear Creek City Council held a special meeting. According to a group message between the council members, the purpose of the meeting was to add the soon-to-be new town clerk Jamie Green to the accounts.
After the meeting, for which Green was not present, Green said he found out the council also voted to borrow $100,000 to help the city pay bills.
Council members also voted to stop taking cash payments at the Twin Forks campground effective July 1. This is something Green said that was a measure for which he had been advocating, but the city denied his requests.
Green said he is continuing his search into the city’s records because he believes it’s his job as a council member to keep citizens aware of what is going on in the city financially.
“I’m proud of our little town, and I want everyone else to be, too,” he said.
Bear Creek’s finances will be another data point in the Sunset Committee review of the Bear Creek Development Authority that is currently underway.