Can Spring Lake solve its financial problems? The mayor speaks

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SPRING LAKE — Spring Lake is implementing new procedures to prevent embezzlement, misuse of credit cards and other financial wrongdoings, the city’s mayor said.

Mayor Kia Anthony met with about five townspeople on Tuesday at a “Coffee with the Mayor” event. She plans to hold such conversations monthly.

Anthony and Acting City Manager Joe Durham answered questions about the city’s financial situation and other issues.

The state’s Local Government Commission took control of Spring Lake’s finances in October after state officials raised concerns about the city’s ability to meet its obligations. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office released a report in March saying an investigation found significant financial wrongdoing issues in Spring Lake.

Anthony said Tuesday that city officials are working to address each of the report’s findings.

The 56-page investigative report found that the former Spring Lake accounting tech, who also served as Spring Lake’s chief financial officer for more than a year, used more than $430,000 of city money for personal purposes.

In response to a question about what happened to the employee, Anthony said she was fired before the audit report was made public. The report’s findings regarding the employee were forwarded to the FBI and the State Bureau of Investigation.

“We don’t know what’s next for her,” Anthony said.

After:Spring Lake is looking to get back on track with next year’s budget. Here’s what’s inside.

The report also found that city employees spent more than $100,000 of Spring Lake’s money on questionable credit card purchases. Anthony said these purchases must now be approved by Durham.

“That issue has been completely alleviated,” she said.

Durham said city employees no longer carry credit cards.

“You have to come to the city manager to apply for the purchase in advance,” he said.

Spring Lake officials also failed to protect city vehicles, according to the report.

Durham said this issue appears to be related to poor record keeping. He said there had been speculation that some vehicles had been stolen.

“That doesn’t seem to be the case at this point,” he said.

The auditor’s investigation also found that the city’s council of aldermen failed to keep minutes of certain closed meetings in 2019 and 2020.

Anthony said City Clerk Melissa Pereira now ensures council minutes are properly documented. Pereira, who Anthony called a “rock star”, did not manage minutes during the period mentioned in the report, the mayor said.

The report also says Spring Lake overpaid the city’s former director of economic development for his monthly cell phone allowance of $9,900. Anthony said the money was refunded to the city.

After:NC Auditor’s Report on Spring Lake: Evidence of Financial Wrongdoing, Including Embezzlement

A three-member audit committee of the board continues to work on how to resolve the issues raised in the report, Durham said.

“We will continue to work on all of these findings,” he said.

Durham said Spring Lake has work to do, but he thinks the city is starting to take a turn with its finances. He said he thinks the Local Government Commission could be ready to begin transitioning Spring Lake’s finances to the city next year.

Anthony said that when the commission first took over the city’s finances, there was talk that it would be seven years before they were returned to Spring Lake. She praised city workers for helping to get finances back on track.

“We’ve made real progress here in Spring Lake,” she said.

Local News Editor Steve DeVane can be reached at [email protected]

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