NAVASSA — The small town of Navassa is once again in financial peril as it soon found itself without an administrator, finance officer, adopted budget or cooperative council.
In a May 23 letter, the Local Government Commission — which oversees municipal finances as an extension of the state treasurer’s department – told the city it had “serious operational issues” in bold. On several occasions, the city called meetings to address its shortcomings and at the direction of the LGC, but the five council members failed to form a quorum.
It is now on its fourth attempt to call a meeting, scheduled for Thursday morning, to sort out the issues. As of press time, it was unclear who would show up.
“We hope that local elected officials will come together, meet by the rules and charter of this community, and listen to the advice of former Governor Jim Martin, who always tells us that doing good is rarely wrong,” said the North Carolina State Treasurer, Dale. said Folwell. “And the right thing to do is to call a meeting and have a finance person appointed and a budget passed.”
If his elected officials fail in these tasks, Navassa could find himself joining the eight government units currently under the financial control of the LGC.
Mayor Eulis Willis did not return phone calls for comment, but sent text messages confirming that the council did not meet to deal with the list of LGC orders due to union issues as a council. administration complete. He indicated that this was partly due to his own personal reasons.
Furthermore, he added that the agenda “has bloated to 18 items and half of the board say it’s too much without the necessary information.” The plan for the meeting includes references to changing the style and representation of city government.
He said the city attorney, who did not respond to a phone call from the press, had the list of items he had requested withdrawn. None of these items were relevant to LGC’s application, the mayor said.
Asked again if he would attend Thursday’s meeting, Willis texted at 4.45pm: “Will the schedule be adjusted [in] less than an hour? … At least half of us want that.
At least one April meeting and two May meetings could not go ahead due to lack of attendance, despite the current statewide Covid emergency ordinance that allows attendance at distance.
“There’s obviously a struggle,” Folwell said. “If a person doesn’t want to play the game, it keeps everything at a standstill. And I don’t think that’s in the best interest of any citizen, but especially low and fixed income citizens of this community.
Financial problems are not new to the town of Navassa. He is a long-time member of the LGC’s Unit Help List, an annual journal of local governments and public authorities facing serious financial and governance challenges.
“Some of their financial issues have been masked by the fact that they are one of the fastest growing regions in the United States,” Folwell said.
The treasurer said internal control issues often translate into budget issues, but if sales tax money and other revenues are higher than expected, those shortcomings are sometimes covered up.
In September 2021, Navassa signed a Fiscal Responsibility Agreement with the LGC as a promise to turn operations around.
“It basically creates a recipe with railings,” Folwell said.
As part of this consensus, the office visited the city on May 17 and identified four critical concerns. By May 27, according to the letter shared by the treasurer’s office, the city was to respond, addressing each finding and outlining its remedy. City administrator Claudia Bray wrote in an email that the response was complete and awaiting council signature. As of press time, she has yet to share a final copy.
The most pressing issue is Bray’s impending resignation, effective Friday. She combines the functions of municipal administrator and finance officer. Without a finance officer, the city cannot write checks and could therefore default on its debts or fail to pay its staff, including police officers. The Department of Public Security has faced its own crises in the past. At some point last year, District Attorney Jon David and the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office urged the city from contracting with deputies because no officers were patrolling the city. In an unexplained casea man has been charged with impersonating a police officer while driving a vehicle marked Navassa.
The LGC’s letter points to an employee performing multiple financial tasks – including writing and approving checks and reconciling the bank account – as a “significant internal control weakness.” He advised city leaders to immediately assign the reviewer role to another qualified person, such as the deputy chief financial officer.
The board must appoint, at least, an interim financial officer by the end of Bray’s last day and draft a transition plan to fill the position with a permanent employee. LGC recommended that Navassa work with the Cape Fear Council of Governments in its recruiting efforts.
Another issue at stake is the budget. Statewide, fiscal year budgets are expected by July. If the city does not approve a financial plan, it must at least adopt one in the meantime. Without a budget, it cannot payroll or spend taxpayers’ money. Right now the city has a $4 million project.
On the agenda for Thursday morning’s special meeting are discussions of the CGL’s demands and the currently vacant positions of urban planner and administrative assistant. The board should also set a date for a budget workshop and appoint points of contact for grants. He is in the midst of plans with natural resource administrators to expand the former Kerr-McGee Superfund site. These are major and potentially transformative undertakings in the city, which now risk being delayed.
It also includes research for “changing the style of government” and for “equal electoral representation”. Currently, the elected council has three seats in District 1, one seat in Districts 2 and 3.
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