Council asks finance chief to explain bills past due

City Council wants to know why the city administration has allegedly not ensured timely payments to some contractors over the past year.

Council grilled Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director, Thursday night late in the meeting about past due bills, including a recent payment in the $70,000 range for an engineering company that stopped working on the levee recertification because it hadn’t been paid under a contract approved by council.

“Why aren’t bills being paid?” Councilman Derek Slaughter asked Nichols. “Can we get a list of the bills that are past due 30 to 60 days that are outstanding?” he asked.

Nichols said he is trying to resolve the issues through communicating with employees about the need for them not to submit work orders without checking to see whether they are fundable.

“They had not identified a source of payment,” he said of the non-payment problem to Wood, the levee engineer working on a plan and design of the relief wells, an estimated $1.25 million cost to repair and replace broken wells. That’s part of the recertification process to get the levee in shape for passing Army Corps of Engineers standards.

Part of the problem with Wood was a lack of communication between departments and a lack of oversight, Nichols said.

“Are you trying to embarass the finance department?” Nichols asked.

“I’m not trying to embarass the department,” Slaughter said. “Is it reasonable to ask?”

The city has had several missed payments with vendors and council needs to know if it’s a lack of process or procedure, Slaughter said.

Several of these projects are funded through the city taking out a $2.5 million line-of-credit that was rolled into a bond issue, according to Nichols.

Among the expenses is $500,000 toward the levee, and similar amounts for city hall, Bowman Field, East Third Street/Old City Gateway Project and streetscape.

As for the levee, once it was discovered in the non-payment issue, a story ran in the Sun-Gazette, prompting Wood to be paid promptly.

The company has restarted its work, Nichols said.

In the future, the department will create a spread sheet of funding, both obtained and applied for, and sources of revenue for various projects.

A similar “matrix” was done for council by Nichols on the East Third Street/Old City Gateway project.