JEFFERSON CITY — A small town in Lincoln County is attempting to dig itself out of a financial disaster that developed under a previous mayor.
An audit released Tuesday found the city of Silex, population 280, is in poor financial condition and has resorted to using volunteers and tapping into restricted utility funds to support the core functions of the city.
“The city is facing a dire financial situation and city officials have not done enough to ensure the Board of Aldermen has a complete understanding of the city’s finances,” Auditor Nicole Galloway said. “Citizens deserve to know their tax dollars are being used efficiently and that the city can meet the needs of the community.”
The audit was requested by Silex residents during the administration of Mayor Dorothy Ford and covered spending during 2018.
The audit found the city, situated about 70 miles northwest of St. Louis, was about $140,000 in debt and unable to pay vendors. It also included numerous examples of questionable spending, including multiple meal charges of over $100 for one person during a training seminar at Lake of the Ozarks. It also found reimbursements for sunscreen and cigarettes.
“Public funds should be spent only on items necessary and beneficial to the city,” the audit noted.
After a new mayor was voted into office in April, the audit said, former city administrator William Barnes and four other employees made 10 fuel purchases totaling $504, even though they had been placed on administrative leave.
In a response, new Mayor Chuck Turbyeville said the money will be recovered.
“The former employees who improperly used the cards will be required to repay any unauthorized amounts,” he wrote in a response to Galloway’s report.
The audit also uncovered more than $6,000 in checks written to Barnes. No response was provided as to the purpose of the payments and Barnes could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the problems at City Hall, the city also faces potentially expensive upgrades to its water system, which the Department of Natural Resources says is not in compliance with state rules.
The city, which was hit hard by flooding in 2015, is run by a mayor and four aldermen. Now, spending must be approved by the board.
Along with the flooding, there has been high turnover and turmoil in the city in recent years.
In 2015, then-Mayor David Rice was killed in a car crash.
In 2016, the Lincoln County sheriff’s office arrested David Wayne Heimburger, then-president of the the Board of Aldermen, for failing to register as a sex offender.
Turbyeville said he is working to get the city back on track.
“The new administration is taking aggressive steps to improve its finances, including laying off personnel and selling surplus property. The city is now run largely with volunteers,” Turbyeville noted. “The city has undertaken the reconstruction of its financial records, which has been a very long, difficult, and ongoing process.”