By Deb Patterson
“We are working out the details and finding out the appropriate information,” said Larry Martindale, president for the Syracuse Town Council, regarding ownership of the lake level control device in Crosson Mill Park. Historical records show it is owned by the town.
While the town is not ready to make any official statement regarding a solution to repair the control device, John Earnest, a member of a committee of concerned individuals from Syracuse and Wawasee lakes and Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, stated “good things are happening. It (the topic of repair) is not getting shelved.” Earnest indicated members of this committee, the town’s clerk-treasurer and several town council members have met and are pushing “to make sure it gets taken care of.” Earnest also stated “progress is being made.”
Town officials released a statement, at its April 16 regular meeting, stating no documentation could be found regarding ownership of the lake level control device and the town could not spend its money on repairs. However, contact with the State Board of Accounts and a check on the county GIS mapping system along with the county assessor’s office has resulted in different information.
Matt Light, chief of staff with the State Board of Accounts, told The Mail-Journal “The town of Syracuse has several funds reported in Gateway (where the public can assess financial information on government agencies) that it could use to pay for these improvements (with sufficient appropriation).” Light noted those funds include the cumulative capital improvement — cigarette tax; cumulative capital development (depending on the working of the town’s ordinance); cumulative capital improvement — tax levy; rainy day fund (again depending on the working of the ordinance uses); riverboat funds; and general fund.
“The state board of accounts would not take audit exception to the payment of these repairs, if sufficient appropriation is available and the claims were properly supporting. Budgeting decisions and priorities are matters for local determination. We are not aware of a statute or rule that mandates the appropriations of funds at the local level for this purpose.”
As of the April 16 meeting, the town had not spoken to officials with the State Board of Accounts. The release stated town officials spoke to a state budget field representative at Department of Local Government Finance, who suggested the town contact the State Board of Accounts. Contact was allegedly made with a “veteran” of that department who also said the town did not have authority and referred town officials back to the Department of Natural Resources.
A check on the county GIS mapping system shows Crosson Mill Park including the control device is owned by the town of Syracuse. A check with the county assessor’s office found that information used in this mapping system is based on a recorded deed, survey/plat.
Utilizing the Gateway website, which shows annual financial reports for government units, the town had $395,426.83 left in the cumulative capital fund — cigarette tax; cumulative capital development and riverboat revenue funds. This is in addition to the $284,826.12 available in the cumulative capital improvement fund.
Paula Kehr-Wicker, clerk treasurer, stated the city receives a varied amount each year in the cigarette tax fund from the state. The balance of this fund in 2018 was $63,584.13. The clerk-treasurer stated the town received $6,568 in 2018 and the town does not use this fund, which is on a fixed rate and does not affect property taxes.
The riverboat fund receives $1,600 each year. At the end of 2018 the town’s financial report showed $159,298.25 available. Again, like the cigarette tax fund, this money is not earmarked for any projects.
The cumulative capital development fund, with a balance of $172,544.45 at the end of 2018, is reserved to help pay off the lease for the community center.
The funds in the town’s rainy day fund, with a beginning cash balance of $145,805.69 and an ending cash balance of $139,354.25, is used for emergencies. Kehr-Wicker stated the town has not put any money into that fund during the last few years. The town did use $49,184.50 of that fund in 2018.
Regarding the cumulative capital improvement fund, which has its own rate, is used for various things and recently had $20,000 approved to pay Bowes and McKinney for legislative help.