Winona Lake puts brakes on appropriations involving pavilion, other items

By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WINONA LAKE — Town Council put the brakes on appropriations Monday night amid questions and confusion.

Council met in a special meeting Monday and attempted to approve the moving of $990,000 in money for several line items, but ultimately pulled back on the plans after realizing legal advertising was inaccurate. 

That became apparent after Retha Hicks, working as a part-time consultant after financial accountability issues arose earlier this year with the clerk’s office, took the blame in presenting council with incorrect plans to move the money. She apologized during the meeting.

The town turned to Hicks and the Indiana State Board of Accounts to sort out problems with town finances after town council began wrangling with Clerk-Treasurer Laurie Renier over numerous issues.

Renier resigned three months ago and claimed the town’s finances had been a mess before she arrived in office some two years ago.

The state board of accounts is currently in the middle of review of town finances.

Heather James, who replaced Renier, was unable to answer several questions on the additional appropriations Monday night as well as another issue involving proposed Christmas bonuses for town employees.

The appropriations proposed from the town TIF fund (totaling $740,000) and another $250,000 from the town’s EDIT fund were prepared for consideration, but officials were vague on some of the intended uses until town resident Jerry Nelson sought details.

Nelson was told that $620,000 was sought from the town TIF fund to pay on a bond issue for the Miller Sunset Pavilion ice rink.

Money for the rink was listed as a capital expense.

James could not provide details on the $250,000 request which was also listed as a capital expense.

Nelson had more questions until council member Barry Andrew came to the clerk-treasurer’s defense.

“I think Jerry’s questions are legitimate questions and they are questions and answers I’m looking for too, but I also think we need to extend a level of grace to Heather and her team, knowing that she came into a position that had a lot of stuff involved with it and I think her and Retha are probably doing the best they can,” Andrew said.

Nelson said he wants more details on finances of the pavilion.

“Before we get into approving money like that, I’d like to see a breakdown of where the heck we’re spending our money. If’s it’s gonna be a million bucks on the ice rink, I think the town taxpayers are entitled to know that,” Nelson said.

He added, “I don’t have a clue as a taxpayer what’s in that $250,000.”

Other questions arose over plans to provide bonuses and comes after questions arose involving a similar situation with elected state officials.

In both proposals, council pulled back the plans and decided to investigate more before reconsidering the requests.