As counterintuitive as it may seem at first, small towns can more easily and more often find themselves deep in corruption. Lack of publicity, training, and adequate personnel, among other issues, have historically led to a variety of troubles, like illegalities on behalf of the governing body and financial issues. The City of Stillmore, on the other hand, appears to be in a great position, thanks to a united city council. Longtime mayor Regan Slater sat down with The Crossroads on Friday and explained the latest in noteworthy Stillmore happenings: a clean audit with no findings.
The city’s governing body meets every second Tuesday of every month at Stillmore City Hall at 7 p.m. During its last meeting held July 13, Slater and council heard from the outside, independent company, Denmark and Brown. This particular Statesboro firm performed a preliminary audit ahead of the city submitting its final audit to the state.
As the minutes read, partner Steve Brown “addressed the mayor and council to explain the city’s 2020 audit.” At that time, he informed the group that the firm went line by line, checking assets, expenditures, liabilities, revenues, and all other categories. The firm also provided a year-over-year comparison for the city to determine whether its financial health is improving or deteriorating.
“We actually exceeded our expectations,” Slater said. “They said we were under budget in every category, which is unheard of in normal municipal audits. Needless to say, all of council was pleased to hear this.”
The mayor went on to explain the positive report didn’t happen by chance but rather by sound practice. The City of Stillmore has a regular accountant charged with monthly bookkeeping duties. In addition to that, the city includes its clerks and various department heads in the financial operation of the city as much as possible, and the city’s finances are discussed in depth at every meeting. Overall, he says the key is teamwork.
“We don’t have city taxes here. We never have. We’ve always been able to make do with what the City of Stillmore has without taxes, and we wanted to keep it that way. Five years ago, we realized we were moving backward, so we knew if we didn’t get things on track financially, we might have to start charging taxes. Our area is already low-income or retired, and if we imposed a tax, even if it was done out of necessity, that could’ve been detrimental to our citizens. We didn’t want that. If we imposed a tax and it still wasn’t enough, if we still couldn’t meet our financial obligations, we could’ve lost our city charter and just become ‘Stillmore Unincorporated.’ We certainly didn’t want that, so we started cutting expenses and looking at things more closely,” Slater said. “Thankfully, we’ve had four good years in a row now. It has taken a complete team effort by all city employees and especially on the part of our city council. Most of our council has been in tact throughout the entire turnaround process. Brad Daughtry, Kym Bowman, Eddie Dean Allen, and myself were already working toward getting the city back in the good, and Susan Mincey joined our council a year into the process and has been on board from the beginning, maybe even before that because her husband has been with the police department here for years so the Minceys have been invested in Stillmore and in the know about things here for a long time. We don’t have pensions or benefits here. We just make it on what revenues we do have, like occupational taxes or franchise fees from Georgia Power and Pineland. I think it goes without saying that all of us—Stillmore’s elected officials and the city employees—are happy to report that we’re confident about our audit going to the state level. I think this report also means we’re being good stewards of city money. After all, that’s our job as elected officials. Most importantly, we plan to continue this trend for the City of Stillmore.”
The mayor continued, offering a little insight that will hopefully dispel any idea that the City of Stillmore’s financial success is reliant on the police department or dependent solely on Crider Foods.
“We’re almost $72,000 to the good, and that’s without property taxes. Our police department only netted about $8,000. When you think about it, that’s small in the grand scheme of things,” he explained. “I also want to add this: we are so thankful to have Crider in our backyard. We’re proud to be the home of one of Emanuel County’s largest employers. However, they’re located outside the city limits. We get plenty of revenue from the traffic that industry brings into Stillmore, the purchases their workers make inside the city limits, and things like that. We appreciate every penny they bring to our economy, and we know that some of this financial success stems from them being just outside of Stillmore, but that’s not the only contributing factor that played a part in the latest audit report we received.”
The next phase of Stillmore’s audit process will see the city submit its FY2020 Budget to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts next month. The Chronicle will provide any and all relevant information on this topic as updates become available.
In the short term, Stillmore City Council and Mayor Slater held its August meeting this week. Pushed back two weeks from its regular schedule, the group met Tuesday night, and part of that meeting included, as usual, the latest financial report. Look for the minutes from the August 24 meeting in next week’s edition of The Crossroads.