Suffridge says miracle is needed for Aragon
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.