News and Tribune

May 7, 2013

New Albany council approves money for paving, sirens

Questions again raised over bicentennial bookkeeping

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany City Council approved $2 million for paving and about $46,000 for additional tornado warning sirens on initial readings Monday.

During a lengthy meeting that featured several agenda items, the council didn’t spend much time on the resurfacing proposal, as $2 million of Economic Development Income Tax funds will be used for resurfacing this year if approved on final reading later this month.

The council has held multiple work sessions on the paving appropriation, and elected to use existing funds for resurfacing as opposed to bonding as much as $5 million.

The appropriation was approved 7-2 on the second ballot, with Council members Kevin Zurschmiede and Diane McCartin-Benedetti voting against the measure.

“I’m just not comfortable spending that much” out of EDIT, Zurschmiede said.

Benedetti said there’s no plan in place for addressing paving on a yearly basis, and the council is usually left to approve money just weeks before resurfacing season begins.

The council did spend several minutes discussing how to proceed with installing new tornado warning sirens at Bicknell Park and the Spring Street fire station.

As a partner resolution to the funding measure, the council OK’d requesting that Floyd County government foot the cost of the sirens. It was an amended version of the request, as the council strengthened the language of the proposal to the county.

The issue was first raised by city attorney Stan Robison, who said it’s the county’s responsibility to maintain the sirens.

Alluding in part to the now defunct joint parks department, Robison said the county hasn’t historically funded its responsibilities in partnerships with the city.

Before being amended, the request was for the county to maintain the sirens if installed. It stated the city would likely pay for the sirens if the county declined to.

“Before we spend the money, I suggest we get something in writing,” Robison said.

Zurschmiede agreed that the council should ask the county to pay for the sirens outright and receive an answer before appropriating the money.

“We continue to pay county taxes. Where are we going to stop funding things the county won’t?” Zurschmiede asked in reference to New Albany taxpayers who also pay county levies.

The sponsor of the ordinance — Councilman Greg Phipps — agreed to delay a final vote on the appropriation until the county responds.

He stressed, however, that the point of the expenditure is to keep residents safe. There are 16 tornado sirens in Floyd County, and officials said donations and grants organized by the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana helped foot some of the original warning systems.



Bicentennial bookkeeping again questioned

Former New Albany Bicentennial Commission Treasurer Vic Megenity addressed the council about alleged mingling of funds for the first time publicly since resigning four months ago.

In January, the News and Tribune reported that Megenity had approached Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration and the commission about the actions of the body’s vice-chairwoman, Barbara Zoller.

According to Megenity, one of the main causes for concern stemmed from the Stories Behind the Stones event held last September at Fairview Cemetery.

Megenity said 300 tickets were sold for the bicentennial event for $10 each, however only about $1,100 was turned in to him along with a note citing $1,700 in credit card payments had been accepted.

Additionally, Megenity said Zoller’s sister, Patty Hughes, had reserved venues and paid for other expenses related to bicentennial events with checks from her personal account.

In an interview with the News and Tribune, Zoller said the Stories Behind the Stones event was paid for with money raised by a separate entity, The Living History Committee, and that no city or bicentennial funds were used.

She added receipts were kept for all expenditures.

However Megenity told the council Monday that after he raised the issue, he was called into a meeting in January by Councilman Bob Caesar, who is a co-chairman of the bicentennial commission.

He said the meeting was also attended by administration officials David Duggins, who is the director of redevelopment and economic development, and Robison.

“I was at first surprised. Then I thought no, I guess I’m not surprised,” Megenity said of the attendance of Duggins and Robison at the meeting, which was apparently called as an executive session by Caesar.

Zoller was appointed by Gahan to the commission when he was serving as city council president.

Megenity said during the meeting, Caesar said he planned on firing him, as well as the commission’s assistant treasurer, Alice Glover.

Megenity said Caesar inferred that there were issues between Glover and Zoller that were driving the disagreement over funding.

But Megenity said that over a four-month period, he provided Gahan, Caesar and Duggins with a list of nine nonprofit violations that occurred as a result of the actions of Zoller and Hughes, and the lack of documentation of the expenses.

Megenity said he read a statement during the meeting, and resigned after he was finished. He said he was told a private entity would be auditing the commission’s books, but questioned whether that’s actually occurred.

The council has appropriated $66,000 in funds for the bicentennial committee, and Megenity said the city should be concerned about the bookkeeping and use of the public money.

“Has it been spent wisely?” he asked. “Where is that money? How was it used?”

The council adjourned the meeting, and only Councilman Dan Coffey addressed Megenity’s statements.

He said he was confident in Caesar’s ability to provide the council with accurate financial numbers related to the bicentennial.

However the council hasn’t received a financial report for 2012 for bicentennial expenditures.