Suf­fridge says mir­a­cle is needed for Aragon

The Standard Journal - - Front Page - By AGNES HAGIN

Elected of­fi­cials agree a mir­a­cle is needed to save Aragon from be­com­ing a vil­lage by Aug. 1, 2014.

A crowd gath­ered on July 17 to de­ter­mine whether or not ru­mors were cor­rect and there are no funds to make pay- roll or pay out­stand­ing and due bills.

Mayor Ken Suf­fridge gave an over­view of the past year, de­tail­ing ef­forts that have been made to con­tinue daily op­er­a­tions and pro­vide ex­pected ser­vice to res­i­dents. He out­lined how a re­treat and town hall meet­ing were held in 2013 to gain sup­port for ef­forts to keep from clos­ing city hall.

“We have done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble,” he said. “We ne­go­ti­ated with govern­ment of­fi­cials, sought ex­pert ad­vice from pro­fes­sion­als and cre­ated eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tools to pre­pare for growth if the econ­omy im­proves.”

Suf­fridge said the prob­lem be­gan when the mill closed for the first time in 1972 and no plan was put in place to se­cure rev­enue this source pro­vided.

“We are not play­ing a blame game but the facts are clear,” he said. “That is the rea­son it is so im­por­tant to have not only short but long term plan­ning. We (elected of­fi­cials) in­her­ited the hand we have been dealt.”

Since 2008, there has been no in­crease in rev­enue, he said. Mean­while, ex­penses con­tinue to rise such as fuel costs and main­tain­ing equip­ment.

“There are people in Aragon who do not pay due property taxes and garbage bills,” he said. “In Au­gust, Aragon im­ple­mented a 30-day property tax penalty and in­ter­est abate­ment pro­gram. Penal­ties and in­ter­est were waived if property own­ers paid taxes owed.”

Suf­fridge said only a few people re­sponded to the of­fer. “Some out of town property own­ers don’t seem to care what hap­pens.”

He told city staff that he did not know if funds would be in place at the end of the month (July) to make pay­roll. “If I did, I would tell you,” he said. “What we need is a mir­a­cle.”

How­ever, he of­fered op­tions to the res­i­dents:

Do noth­ing and give up city char­ter.

Be­lieve ev­ery­thing will be fine.

Or, try to save Aragon.

“I have not given up,” Suf­fridge said. “I don’t want to be the last mayor of Aragon.”

There­after, he asked Hal Kuhn, fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, to ex­plain the sit­u­a­tion.

The mes­sage Kuhn de­liv­ered was short and to the point. He said Aragon has bills due by July 31, to­tal­ing about $200,000 and no cur­rent fund­ing to pay the list.

He as­sured city staff, in­clud­ing pub­lic works, there is enough money to make the next pay­roll but made no prom­ises as to the fu­ture.

Kuhn ad­mit­ted he was work­ing to find ways to cut ex­penses.

Prior to this dis­cus­sion, Frankie Matthews, for­mer chief, said funds raised for the fire depart­ment has been do­nated to char­ity.

“We now have a zero bal­ance in that ac­count,” he said.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, coun­cil mem­bers voted to ta­ble a de­ci­sion about hold­ing the bar­be­cue un­til the first meet­ing in Jan­uary 2015.

Ad­di­tion­ally, they tabled any de­ci­sion on health in­sur­ance and set­ting the mill­age rate.

“I will not vote to raise taxes,” Councilman Kevin Prewett said.

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