Civility and financial worries took center stage during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Jarratt Town Council.
As with August’s meeting, the Council members were greeted by a packed house of residents who turned out for the gathering who were undeterred by last week’s cancellation of the meeting, normally slated for the second Tuesday of the month.
Former Council member Melanie Wilson approached Council about finances, asking about specific expenses related to the closing of Wilson’s Barbecue, including a nearly $300 charge to change the locks, legal expenses of roughly $184, and an $809.51 water and sewer expense.
Jarratt Mayor Ken Warf said the $809.51 expense was related to taking over bills at the building that formerly housed Wilson’s.
“Once Wilson’s closed, we took over the bills,” Warf said. “The lights are still on, the water is still hooked up.”
Wilson also inquired about a utility bill exceeding $2,300, which, she was told, was for all the Town’s electricity bills added together.
The former Council member also asked Council if they were considering forgiving the loan the Town gave to Wilson’s in order for the restaurant to be opened earlier this year. The money included the expenses incurred by the Town in renovating the building and was designed to be paid back to the Town by the restaurant’s owners in the same way a mortgage would be paid.
When the business was closed, the Town was left to consider ways to recover the money, which was touched upon during August’s meeting.
Warf said no decision has been made on how to recoup the money, but admitted all options were still open for consideration and discussion.
Before she sat down, Wilson also asked about the possibility of posting minutes to the meetings on the Town’s website, as well as Town Profit and Loss Performance reports, in order to keep Jarratt’s finances visible.
“Full transparency of what you guys are doing would allow you to avoid this council following in the footsteps of old council that got everybody so upset,” Wilson said.
Town resident Kurt Whitehead also addressed Council to discuss finances, stating that the Town’s financial balance, reported to be $90,888.67, was only nine to 10 months of operating cash. Whitehead stated the Town had to adjust its budget in order to account for the loss of Wilson’s, both in terms of the restaurant’s lost meals tax revenue and the fact the Town isn’t getting paid on the loan it made to the restaurant’s owners.
“You have nine to 10 months left,” Whitehead said. “After that, is the Town going to be dissolved? That’s the word on the street. If that happened, we would become the forgotten corner of the two Counties.”
Whitehead said the idea the Town would be dissolved once it ran out of cash has “traveled up and down the East Coast,” and said the situation was urgent.
“There’s no more money after 9-10 months,” Whitehead said. “We’ve got to come up with some money.”
Whitehead added he believed the Town needed to sell property it owned, as well as put aside any plans to renovate the Johns-Manville Clubhouse, which has been a topic of discussion in recent months at Council meetings as well.
Councilwoman Annie Peavy said she was grateful so many Town residents have been coming to the meetings in recent months, but added she was disappointed there was no input from residents during the buildup to the renovations of the building which became Wilson’s Barbecue.
“Where were you all in 2013, ’14 or ’15 before all this came up?” Peavy said. “And now that I would say the bottom has fallen out, everybody is here.”
Peavy said the Town can get out of its current situation if the way everyone interacts with each other improves.
“I don’t see why we can’t come together and just be cordial and friendly to each other,” Peavy said. “If we want to fix it, we need to come up with a plan and quickly.”
Finances again came up during discussion of widening the bid search for the proposed forensic audit of the Town, the first part of which yielded no suitable response. Warf suggested changing the nature of the proposed audit from a forensic audit to the financial statement audit.
“You can get the performance of the Town from a financial statement audit,” Warf said. “Forensic audits are usually for the purpose of determining fraud or mismanagement.”
Council President Cecil McCoy moved to keep the audit a forensic audit, and the motion was passed to post notices in Petersburg and Richmond.
Peavy said she was interested in seeing the Town rise above its current woes and for the residents to come together.
“Jarratt is not dead,” Peavy said. “We can come together, we can’t just sit there. We are here, and we can do something. We can put Jarratt back on the map if we just stand up and do it.”
Featured Photo: Jarratt Town Council members face a packed house during Tuesday’s meeting. Pictured left to right: Council members M.B. Rideout, Roderic Tuell and James Wyche, Town Clerk Wanda Fikes, Mayor Ken Warf, Council President Cecil McCoy, and Councilwoman Annie Peavy.