West Buechel goes 3 years without an audit despite long history of wasted taxpayer money
Councilman Toby Clark said West Buechel constantly pays bills late, has little-to-no savings and balances the shortfalls on credit cards.
WEST BUECHEL, Ky. (WDRB) -- Council members in West Buechel say the city has broken the law with bad accounting for taxpayers' money.
West Buechel has not completed its legally required annual audit in three fiscal years. The small Jefferson County city has fewer than 1,500 residents, a $3 million annual budget and is now poised to move forward with dueling audits.
"The message to taxpayers right now is, 'Your money has been used inappropriately and unethically, and we're going to get to the bottom of it and make sure we turn this ship and get it going in the right direction,'" West Buechel Councilman Toby Clark said.
On Tuesday night, the city council overrode a veto by Mayor Rick Richards with a 5-1 vote and decided to allocate $30,000 to hire its own accounting firm or staff to catch up audits back to 2015.
The move turned Tuesday's council meeting into a battle over the books:
COUNCIL MEMBER JOHN CAMPBELL: "You are supposed to be up here to do a job correctly. We're supposed to be up here to do the job correctly."
MAYOR RICHARDS: "I personally don't think I've done the job incorrectly."
The last extensive financial review in West Buechel came from the state in 2015. It cited more than a $500,000 in wasteful spending and a lack of financial control that included purchases from the Home Shopping Network. Richards continued to blame the prior administration in Tuesday's meeting:
RICHARDS: "That stuff was deleted from quick books, no records ... We had to ultimately get a new set of QuickBooks, go back and start from scratch to recreate a QuickBooks file so when we did turn that info to the auditor, it would be accurate."
COUNCIL MEMBER JOHN CAMPBELL: "So that's taken three years?"
RICHARDS: "No. It's taken a great deal of time."
Richards said an audit is in the works and the council's vote to allocate funds for another firm will just double the effort and taxpayers' expense.
"He won't even provide us with the name of the people or the person doing the audit, so it raises and increases our suspicion that he's lying to us," Clark said.
Infighting is a constant with the leaders in the small town, and so is the lack of trust. It came to a head last month when city council members received a bank statement showing just $18,000 in the city's checking accounts, not even enough for payroll. Money has since come in from quarterly tax receipts. Still, Clark said West Buechel constantly pays bills late, has little-to-no savings and balances the shortfalls on credit cards.
A 2017 WDRB investigation uncovered more than $100,000 stolen from the city's bank account in a hack. Richards said most of that money was refunded. The latest tension comes as the council starts the budget process with plans to pass a 2018-19 spending plan in the next 60 days.
West Buechel bears some of the highest taxes in the state of Kentucky and draws significant revenue from the shopping centers in the Bashford Manor area of Louisville including a Walmart, Target, Kroger and Lowe's.
"Right now, we just have a ton of questions," Clark said. "We want to know the answers, and we want to still have a city. We don't want to lose our police department."
Richards did not return calls for this story.
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