BUNKER HILL – The Town of Bunker Hill could lose its police force in mid-March due to a deadlock between the town council and clerk-treasurer over $247.
Council President Robert Cox, also a reserve deputy, told the council during a special meeting Monday night that he reviewed the town’s inventory and found it was “short to get officers qualified to carry their duty rounds.”
He said if the town’s officers “do not qualify annually, they are not authorized to carry a weapon on duty.”
BK Bullet Casting, in Peru, would sell the rounds to the town for $13 per box, Cox said. He asked Clerk-Treasurer Lisa Wilson for the money, and she refused it.
“Where do you want to get the money from?” she said. “We’re down to right about $28,000 (in our general fund) and that’s it,” she said. “That has to pay payroll and regular bills to get us through until we can get some money to come. And right now, we have no money coming in.”
She said the request would normally come out a user fee fund, but it doesn’t exist.
“I have nothing to take it out of,” Wilson said.
Cox said there were two options in the situation – buy the ammo “or officers start coming off the street.”
“This is only getting us enough to get everyone qualified. No extra,” he said.
Cox said the appropriation “is the bare minimum to get the officers where they can maintain their firearms on the street.”
“If this town can’t pay $247 to keep officers on the street, we might as well close up shop now, because we’re done,” Cox said. “There’s no functioning any longer if we can’t afford a $247 bill. (The police department is) functioning at the bare minimum.”
Cox said the police department “may be able to scrap together” enough to qualify two officers, but they weren’t “released to work the streets yet.”
“Police protection for the town is priority,” Cox said.
Every fund in the town’s budget has been lumped together – the user fee, police department, unsafe building and more, Wilson said. The town hasn’t had a state-approved budget in four years due to errors by Wilson’s predecessor, Sarah Betzner, who remains employed as deputy clerk-treasurer as Cox investigates her.
“It was all tossed into general and nothing was accounted for,” she said. “The previous treasurer had it all into general. And as she took it out of general, she would say what fund it was to be used for. We have three bank accounts – general, water and sewer. That’s it.”
Rough amounts in each fund, Wilson said during the meeting, were $26,000 in general, $30,000 in sewage and $2,500 in water. Payroll, she said, was supposed to be split up between all three but hadn’t been.
“It had been taken out of general and not been funded back,” she said. “(Betzner) wrote one check, and let’s say 50 percent was supposed to come out of sewer, she should have written a check from sewer and put it back. That has not been done.”
Wilson said it was “being corrected now,” but “that’s what has made general account so low.”
Wilson said the State Board of Accounts told her the decision was at her discretion. She said she would approve the money if she could, but “with the bills (officials) have, (the town) can’t afford anything.”
She said the Department of Local Government Finance told her the town couldn’t spend money until there were appropriations made to do so.
“I am only going by DLGF and SBOA guidelines,” she said.
Cox said he was going to “call and put a meeting in for 48 hours and vote a direct order from council to write the check.”
“Due to the emergency situation, it’s not an issue with SBOA,” Cox said.
He said he spoke with a person there who said if it was conveyed as such a situation, then if Wilson could write the check, “then write the check.”
Councilmember Don Jaberg volunteered to front the cost of the ammunition at the meeting, asking if the council had “any problem with this money coming from a residence or citizen of Bunker Hill?”
“If the attorney has no problem with it, consider it paid,” he said.
However, he proposed only it if it was legal and if the town would reimburse him.
Wilson said Tuesday the town “does not have the money to reimburse.”
“I would love to give them the money,” she said. “But I have to be able to afford bills and payroll.”
She said the police department was “the only department asking for money.”
“The answer is no,” she said. “The money is not there.”
She suggested the police department purchase the ammunition out of pocket, as others had done.
“My office is buying supplies out of its own pocket. I have purchased items out of my pocket. I have not been reimbursed and I have not asked for it,” she said. “There is no reason the police department can’t do the same.”
Wilson said she was “not trying to be mean” and that she was “only looking out for the town.”
“It is an unfortunate situation the entire town finds itself in,” she said. “That’s why the town is in situation it’s in – because money was just given out. I would love to do what I could.”
A meeting had not been scheduled as of Tuesday afternoon.