The state-appointed agency that oversees East St. Louis' finances says the city has unpaid bills dating back to 2009.
The situation is "unacceptable," said Brandon Drake, the budget director for the Financial Advisory Authority which oversees city spending.
At a recent authority meeting, Drake said city leaders charged with making sure bills from vendors get paid have been holding dozens of bills from as far back as 2009, 2010 and 2011.
But City Manager Deletra Hudson told a reporter later that "there is only one vendor that fits that description. The minute that I was notified, I informed the FAA. My finance department got together with the FAA and got the bill paid."
Hudson said that was the end of last year or the beginning of this year. And the vendor is someone who the city regularly does business with.
"It's not like the city is holding bills -- setting them in drawers," she said.
Drake noted that the city had sent the FAA five lists of unpaid bills, but after being told by the FAA that the final list, the fifth one, should include all unpaid bills, the city kept sending more bills.
Drake said it's expected that final 2012 bills and invoices from November and December would still be arriving in February.
"But the issue is everything else, especially the $30,000 in vehicle maintenance bills that were held by the Police Department. The city's budget director obtained those bills from the Police Department in the fall," he said.
The city added more than $67,000 in bills owed to the Hinshaw and Culbertson law firm, $30,000 in Corporate Claims Management bills, and $6,700 that is owed to Crowder and Scroggins, a law firm.
"While the majority of the bills and invoices are from 2012, some of the bills and invoices date back to 2009, 2010, 2011. This is unacceptable. This is a return to 1991 when the state loaned the city $3.7 million to pay old bills," Drake said.
He added, "Holding bills is damaging to the city and it's detrimental to small businesses that the city does business with. The problem has become much worse for 2011 and 2012."
Drake said the overdue bills "are a clear failure of management to hold staff accountable for holding or throwing away bills and unauthorized expenditures. The overages are purchasing violations. If there is an issue with the budget or payment, someone needs to bring that issue to the attention of (city and FAA leaders). There should be no exceptions."
City Manager Deletra Hudson denies this is the case.
"Based off of the list of overages, only 25 to 30 percent of that list was controlled by departments. The majority of the list was things that are controlled in our finance department for payments. Attorney bills, insurance bills come directly to our finance department," Hudson said.
Drake also pointed out that the financial management contract agreed upon by the city and the FAA specifically states that the city pay invoices within 10 working days of receiving them. Bills are then to be paid in batches no more than three times a month unless there are extreme circumstances.
Hudson said it's difficult for the city to do that, without budget authority.
Drake wants the city and the financial management contractor to enter all invoices into the city's financial management system within five days of receipt, with all invoices having a date stamp. Also, all bills older than 60 days should be submitted to the City Council and the FAA board for approval, Drake said.
He also suggested that if a backlog of bills exists, there be a shut-down of expenditures for all funds while an investigation takes place. Drake also recommended that letters be sent to vendors telling them that if they are not paid in a timely manner, to contact the FAA for assistance.
The FAA board, which includes Chairman Marvin Lampkin, Director David Moore and Director Clarence Ellis, voted unanimously to approve Drake's recommendations.
Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr., City Manager Hudson, city budget director Egzabia Bennett, city Tax Increment Financing district director Andrea Tolden Hughes, and assistant finance director Dawayne Stewart were some of the city's leaders and management team who were present at the meeting. They did not comment at the time.
Drake said the FAA cannot view the mail or emails that come in to the city.
But, "Any responsible, competent individual should be able to open the mail, forward on and submit invoices for payment," Drake said.
Drake said the annual list of budgetary overages comes about when the city runs out of budget authority for a specific line item, which results in the city not being able to pay bills that are normally paid from that line item.
Drake said the reason for this is "bills being held up due to disputes, unauthorized, unplanned expenses, untimely payment of expenses, throwing bills away and holding them for undetermined reasons".
Hudson said, "I don't know where he got that information from. I am not aware of bills being thrown away."
Drake said such bills are "off the radar, and the offenders don't notify anyone about the issues. Because the held bills are off the radar, other expenditures continue to be paid without consideration for the unpaid ones."
Hudson said the five lists of unpaid bills that were sent to the FAA were "outstanding bills that exceeded the budget. The lists had been updated four times. Things were continually being added and taken off. Some things stayed on a majority of the time. We attempted to address this before year's end with a budget ammendment. But due to us trying to get a 2013 budget passed, the FAA elected to not entertain our budget amendment."
As far as the police department, and the holding up of bills there, Hudson maintained that there was not enough budget to pay the bills.
"There may have been issues because of tighter budgets. But on an overall basis, we paid our bills even if we had to charge it to next year's budget. Paying our vendors in a timely manner is our priority," Hudson said.
She added, "That's the reason we have to work with the FAA to get things done in a timely manner, and when we have cases where we've exceeded the budget."
Hudson said she actually thought the city and the FAA had resolved the issue.