The town of Swansea, S.C., has an unusual financial problem: it faces a debt of $473,251, money owed to the state from fines and fees collected by the town’s police department over several years.
In today’s economy, debt is not unusual but what makes this obligation atypical is that Swansea Mayor Ray Spires spent the money without authorization from the town council.
This was stated in the town’s schedule of findings, prepared by the town’s auditors, Rish and Enzastiga.
According to Rish and Enzastiga, the town’s “expenses were greater than budgeted amounts and no authorization was documented.”
Rish and Enzastiga recorded the increasing debt each year, made a note to the mayor and town council that the necessary approval from the council to spend the missing money had not been received and that it was not clear what the money had been spent on.
Earlier this year, the state of South Carolina sent the town a collection letter asking to make arrangements to repay the money. Councilmembers Barrett Black and William Bailey were asked about the situation and both said they were unaware Spires had received a collection letter from the state.
They were also asked about the $473,251 debt and Black responded by saying he had asked during a council meeting about the funds. Spires responded that as he was also the acting town manager he could spend the money without the council’s approval.
None of the four council members has inquired further about the missing money. When asked directly about the misappropriated money, Spires replied, “This is none of your business. You need to go back home and leave this alone. I have handled it.”
That sentiment was reiterated a short time later: “I told you to go home. I have handled it and that is all you need to know.”
Swansea’s 2009 budget did not include reimbursing the state for past due money and the funds are currently not available for repayment. The only possible answers for paying the state back at present are either cutting services or raising taxes; neither of which will be met with enthusiasm by the citizens of Swansea.
Should those options be floated by town leaders, they should be met with questions concerning the $473,251 owed to the state from fines and fees collected by the Swansea Police Department.
Among those questions: Where did the money go? Who approved how it was to be spent? And why didn’t those in power demand explanations instead of ignoring the situation?