Winona Lake Clerk-Treasurer, Fire Chief, Clash Over Budget Issue
WINONA LAKE — As the town board of Winona Lake considered the 2019 proposed budget one month prior to final adoption, one department found itself at odds with the town’s main holder of the purse strings over the subject of fund transfers.
Paige Sansone of Umbaugh & Associates discussed Winona Lake’s proposed 2019 and lauded the municipality for its frugality, stating that Winona Lake is known for remaining in the black.
“A balanced budget is defined as your disbursements match your receipts,” Sansone said. “That truly means your spending what you’re bringing in in that given year and you’re not touching your cash reserves.”
According to Sansone, Winona Lake is on track to decrease the overall budget for 2019 while still increasing salaries and adding a police officer. Council Member Tecy Banta asked Sansome about how money is moved from one department to another and from within the coffers of a single department. Sansome said that moving monies from one fund or department to another required council approval.
“You can also transfer within a major category, the clerk-treasurer can do that,” Sansome said. It is that action and the authority granted to Clerk-Treasurer Kent Adams that sparked a debate during the budget discussion.
Banta asked Adams about requests from department heads.
“Have there been requests made?” Banta asked.
“Yes there have indirectly, but never talked to me specifically,” Adams countered. “I did not authorize any this year, which I have the statutory authority to do that.”
Banta asked Adams if there was any wiggle room on the issue.
“I don’t think so,” said Adams.
“And why is that?” Banta asked.
Adams replied “Because some of those accounts have been overdrawn in the past and we’ve bailed them out, so to speak. We’re talking about the fire department, I assume.”
The issue at hand is the moving of funds from one line item within a single department’s budget to accommodate overspending on another line item. Adams said for the Winona Lake Fire Department, he was drawing a line in the sand and setting a new precedent for the remainder of the 2018 budget and beyond.
“I have the statutory authority to not grant, regardless of what the council wants to do, and I’ve chosen to do that because of past performance,” said Adams. “It’s principle, we monitor all of these accounts very closely for over expenditures. We have the resources [money in other line items], but I choose to make a point with that this year.”
Fire Chief Mitch Titus asked to be heard and offered to explain the nature of all the discussion.
“What he’s alluding to is I screwed up on one little item,” Titus said. “I overspent in my equipment and repairs, but I still have an operating budget of $25,000 in my capital budget and so I got an email to come talk to Kent about it.”
Titus said his schedule created challenges, which prevented him from coming into the clerk-treasurer’s office immediately.
“I work 60 hours a week, a full-time job, plus the love of the fire department,” Titus said. “So, when I was able, on a rainy day, I came in and talked to Kent, to see what I had to do to move this. And, once again, he told me he refuses to do it and this statutory stuff and that it didn’t matter what the council decision was, he wasn’t going to move it.”
Titus said the purchase of a special light designed to be attached to a fire truck to help illuminate emergency scenes was the purchase that prompted the discussion. “So now my budget for the rest of the year is down to almost nothing, but there’s still 20 or $40,000 sitting down here that I’m not able to use to finish out my year.”
Titus said he had been able to transfer funds in the past and asked Adams how long he’d been serving as clerk-treasurer. Adams answered seven years. “On the flip side of this, it’s been the same way up until last month. It was never a problem until last month. Then, all of a sudden, it became a problem. So, I’m just letting the taxpayers know the problem.”
Adams told Titus that he had a fund within his budget that could be used. “He wants us to use our compensation that I pay my guys with to pay the bills,” said Titus. Adams said the fund in question, which still has about $19,500 in it, is earmarked for “clothing, automobile allowance and equipment expenses.”
Titus said he preferred to use a different fund.
“How are you going to pay for a light out of salaries and compensation?” Titus asked. “That’s for our personal vehicles to replace our gas. That’s to reimburse me for using my personal vehicle to come to your house. Get the state statutes out, because that’s what it is.”
Adams said he took issue with Titus communicating with Town Coordinator Craig Allebach and various members of the town council instead of talking to him.
“I can show you the agreement that was signed by you in October 2011,” Adams said. “I have nothing else to say except I’m not approving this. Why do you not talk to me? I don’t know why you don’t talk to me. And it’s not personal.”
Titus said, “It’s funny how you always say it’s a two-way street and it ends up being a one-way dead end.”
In other news, Allebach announced events scheduled for the rest of the month and October in Winona Lake, which included:
- Board of Realtors 5K at the Park, Sept. 29, 9 a.m.
- Village Oktoberfest, Sept. 29, 11 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.
- Grace College Homecoming, Oct. 5-6.
- Open House at Dr. Dane A. Miller Science Complex at Grace College, Oct. 5, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
- Dedication ceremony at Dr. Dane A. Miller Science Complex at Grace College, Oct. 5, 4:45 p.m.
- Homecoming parade beginning at the park, Oct. 6, 11 a.m.