Swansea council meeting becomes heated over million dollar debt

By Jody Barr - bio | email

SWANSEA, SC (WIS) - The town of Swansea, home to 600 people, is $1.5 million in debt.

That's what the latest audit shows, blaming town staff for improper accounting and out-of-control spending. A council member is demanding answers and says Mayor Ray Spires is responsible. "I'd characterize it as a dictatorial-type situation where the mayor has taken it upon himself to spend money as he wishes," says Swansea councilman Jerald Sanders.

After the town's latest audit was released, Sanders started investigating how his small town's finances piled on some big-time debt. One example is that the town clerks are making more than $50,000 each. "This small town can't afford paying those kinds of salaries," says Sanders.

Then came the town's Christmas tree. Sanders says the mayor told him he paid $3,500 for it but raised the money from business donations. "I have not gotten an accounting of how much money he received from the businesses and how much money perhaps the town put up for the buying of the tree," says Sanders.

WIS asked Mayor Spires to answer Councilman Sander's allegations and he declined to discuss it. Sanders says he asked the mayor, just last week, to talk about the situation in private. The pair made a lunch date. "He gave me a call the next day and said he didn't have the appetite to meet with me," says Sanders.

Sanders and Councilman Ben Simons joined council 10 months ago. Both men said at Monday night's council meeting that they plan to put a stop to what they call Swansea's financial recklessness. "Until Jerald and myself got on this council, y'all would rubber stamp everything that he (Spires) said," says Simons.

A previous council made Spires administrator after the town's sitting administrator left, and that gave him control over the town's checkbooks. However, the problem, according to the councilmen, is Spires spent without council's approval. Now, the problem Monday night is Spires wanted to wait another month to pass the 2011 budget.

"Let's try to get together," says Spires, "We've wasted 2 or 3 weeks already."

"We've wasted six months!" exclaims Simons, "I've been asking you about the budget since July, Mayor. You said, 'Oh, we're waiting on the figures. We're waiting on the system.' something's wrong with the computer system. I've been waiting and feeling you out since July."

In the town's latest audit, auditors told Mayor Spires, because of the $1.4 million debt, there's a chance the town might go bankrupt. After the report, the mayor, Sanders, and Simons asked the state's Municipal Association to help. Simons says Mayor Spires never followed up with the association.

"You didn't find it in your powers and authority as being the mayor and the administrator to follow up with them concerning the budget process?" questions Simons.

"I know that I should, but I was involved with Bubba, trying to get stuff going on here in the town with the Christmas and all of that," claims Spires, "We were lining up the parade."

"So, the parade is more important than the budget?" asks Simons.

"I did not say that," says Spires.

What it means is that it'll be at least another month before Swansea leaders approve a budget. Councilman Simons offered an amendment that would require any new spending in the town to be approved by council. The mayor, Councilwoman Linda Butler, and Councilman Woodrow Davis killed that motion.

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