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May 17, 2014

Mayor says Terre Haute has money to pay bills

Recent heavy volume of submitted claims resulted in difficulty paying in timely fashion

TERRE HAUTE — The City of Terre Haute is paying all its bills, despite concerns to the contrary, city officials tell the Tribune-Star.

“Processing issues” led to a delay in some bill payments earlier this year, but that has been resolved, Leslie Ellis, city controller, said Friday. Also, an unusually high volume of claims were submitted to the city, resulting in difficulty approving and paying them all in a timely fashion, she said.

The high volume of bills was “most of the reason” for the delay, Ellis said. “Usually, we have a very quick turnaround.”

If any late fees result from any of the bills, Ellis will contact the vendors asking that they be removed, she added. “Our credit is very good” with our vendors, she said.

Rumors have been swirling around City Hall in the past few weeks about possible late or non-payments of bills. This comes as the city awaits its twice-yearly property tax payments from the state. At present, the city’s general fund shows a significant negative balance, but the city’s overall financial picture is healthy, Mayor Duke Bennett told the Tribune-Star on Friday.

If all city bank accounts are added together, there is a $34 million positive balance as of Friday, according to financial data provided by the city.

The general fund was about $5 million in the red March 31, according to a monthly financial report provided to members of the Terre Haute City Council. The general fund covers most of the city’s bills and payroll on a daily basis.

“That [general fund] number has been higher and it has been lower,” Bennett said. The general fund is combined with other city funds in a single bank account, meaning positive balances in other accounts (unless they are restricted by law, such as “nonreverting funds”) can be used to meet the city’s general fund expenses, he said.

“[The general fund] is running a negative balance, but there is money in the bank,” Bennett said. “There’s $34 million in the bank. That’s the number you’ve got to look at.”

As for the general fund, it is supported by property tax payments to the city via the state. Those payments come twice a year: One in January and one in June. After the June payment arrives, the general fund will have a healthier balance, the mayor said.

The city is running about 4 percent under budget this year, according to the mayor. He hopes that the city’s general fund will end 2014 in better shape than it ended 2013, but it’s too early to know for sure, he said. This has been the first year in the past five the city has not experienced a large drop in property tax revenue, he said.

“Things have stabilized,” Bennett said. “The worst is behind us.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

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