Mar 25, 2014 09:20 Audit: Cash-strapped town of Baldwin warned about delinquent utility bills Audit: Cash-strapped town of Baldwin warned about delinquent utility bills Mayor: Finances have improved since audit Richard Burgess| firstname.lastname@example.org March 25, 2014 Comments LAFAYETTE — Baldwin ’s municipal budget was about $240,000 in the red last year, leaving some businesses that deal with the town waiting months for payment, according to a report released Monday by the state legislative auditor. As of November, the small town in St. Mary Parish owed vendors $340,000, and $172,000 of that amount was more than four months past due, according to the auditor’s report. Auditors also found one potential source of revenue — utility payments for gas, water and other municipal services — was not bringing in as much as it could. More than 200 customers had delinquent accounts totalling $96,111 as of October, and $66,794 of that amount was past due by more than two months, according to the report. It also cautioned Baldwin officials about possibly violating state laws that prohibit government from providing services for free. Baldwin Mayor Wayne Breaux said Monday that the town’s finances have improved somewhat since the auditors visited last year, but he acknowledged there is still work to be done. “It has been a problem for the last few years,” Breaux said. The mayor said the town is cutting personnel expenses by not filling some vacant positions and has reviewed utility policies and is looking for savings in other areas. He also said the auditors’ visit last fall came during a normal low point for town finances because the town tends to run low on cash at the end of the year before receiving property tax payments in one lump sum. According to the most recent figures provided by the mayor, Baldwin owes vendors about $60,000, with roughly half of that past due by at least four months. Breaux said the vendors understand the town’s financial situation and payments might be delayed until tax revenue comes in. “They work with us,” Breaux said. Breaux added the number of delinquent utility bills has been “reduced considerably,” but he did not have the most up-to-date figures available. The town’s financial woes were brought on in part by a community center completed in 2009, Breaux said. He said Baldwin paid $300,000 from town reserves and borrowed another $900,000 for the project, money the town is still paying back. “That kind of put us in this situation,” Breaux said. Besides the budget issues, auditors questioned Police Chief Gerald Minor’s practice of sometimes reducing fines for traffic citations, noting the chief is possibly violating state laws that stipulate only a judge or prosecutor has that discretion. Breaux said the police chief serves in a role similar to a prosecutor in the town’s Mayor’s Court, which handles the citations, and Minor believes he has the power to reduce fines when serving in that role. “That’s a difference of their opinion and his opinion,” Breaux said. The mayor said the town is seeking a legal opinion from the state attorney general on the issue. The police chief has stopped reducing fines pending that decision, Breaux said.