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July 13, 2018 10:37:22 AM
More than nine months after Columbus and Lowndes County ended their joint parks and recreation operations, the two entities still haven't settled all the terms of the divorce.
County Administrator Ralph Billingsley sent a letter to city leadership last week, including an invoice for more than $74,000 in equipment, bank statements and workers' compensation costs still owed by the now-defunct Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority.
Billingsley said the city still owes the county for equipment it purchased with CLRA funds before Oct. 1 that the city parks department kept after the split, as well as for cash balances in CLRA bank accounts that were never divided.
The city should have paid the county half the value of those expenses, Billingsley said, but it has yet to do so.
"(The city) bought a zero-turn lawn mower for 8,000-something dollars two weeks before we separated," he said. "They used the CLRA money to buy that. You know where the lawnmower is? It's at the city's shop. ... Why am I paying to buy the city a lawnmower?"
And that was just the tip of the iceberg, Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said.
"They (also) bought $8,000 worth of tables and chairs ... in September, paid three employees' comp time, including a salaried employee," Sanders added. "What really gets stuck in my craw ... it was an individual autonomous organization that was all (supposed to be) 50-50."
Former CLRA Executive Director and now the city of Columbus' Park Director Greg Lewis did confirm that equipment was bought with CLRA funds within a month of the entity dissolving and that no portion of the money used to buy the equipment has been returned to the county.
Lewis would not comment further.
The invoice Billingsley sent the city also includes about $65,000 in the CLRA bank accounts, which Billingsley says the county is entitled to half of, but the accounts are now in Lewis' possession.
"(The city) hired (Lewis) who took all of the records and accounts," Billingsley said.
Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong confirmed to The Dispatch he received Billingsley's invoice but would not comment further on the record, citing the city's need to further investigate the county's claims. Likewise, both Mayor Robert Smith and Chief Financial Officer Milton Rawle declined to comment.
The workers' compensation costs amount to only about $6,500 of the total invoice -- which technically should be split 50-50 between the city and county since they were accrued before the CLRA dissolved on Oct. 1, 2017, said county officials.
Workers comp was paid in years' past with CLRA funds when the entity was still active. The premium was paid at the beginning of each fiscal year, and at the end of the year, an audit adjusted the premium price based on the employee payroll and claims, which CLRA paid.
Neither the city nor county has paid its half of the adjusted premium, though.
"(The city) said, 'We'll put in 50 percent if the county puts in 50 percent.'... But the city's got 100 percent of the money. So I went back to Galloway, Chandler, McKinney Insurance and said the city needs to put in all of it," Billingsley said.
From there, Billingsley said, the county can deduct the half it owes of the worker's comp claim from the amount the city owes the county for the equipment and bank balances.
"Just recently, (the insurance company) called the county and wanted us to pay. ... The city wasn't going to pay it. Well we don't owe it, the CLRA owed it. They had all this money at the end of the year and they didn't pay it," Sanders said. "(The insurance company) paid the premium out-of-pocket and now they're out because the city refused to pay it."
Other disputed money
After the CLRA was dissolved, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors discussed giving the city of Columbus $200,000 in recreation funding for Fiscal Year 2018.
This money is still wrapped up in the county's 2018 budget, which expires at the end of September.
"There was never an official agreement," Sanders said. "We did put the money in our budget just in case we did that, but there's been no official vote. The money is still there and we're not going to give any of the money to the city until they give the money they owe."
The $200,000 is roughly the amount Columbus homeowners spend in county property taxes for parks and recreation.
Billingsley explained that the invoice sent on July 3 was not going to be the final amount the county requests from the city.
"This is just to say to communicate," Billingsley said. "Let's sit down...Tell me why (certain expenses) shouldn't be on there."
Once the city and county come to a resolution, the final invoice will be decided.
"We'll come up with that number. This is just a starting point," Billingsley said. "All we want is to settle up on our half."
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