Mountain Park_The town of Mountain Park in Kiowa County is scrambling to find money to pay its bills. A former city clerk is accused of embezzlement, and a lot of money that would have been spent paying bills is missing. The town discovered the money was missing six months ago, but by then the damage was done. The town had not paid its bills - including its insurance premium. Now, residents may be forced to make up the loss of about $100,000 by paying higher utility bills. It's a little town in big trouble.
Former City Clerk Kimberly Morris is accused of embezzlement, and has yet to face the judge. Meanwhile, Mayor Janie Strutton says they've made a lot of headway repaying the debt, but still have a long way to go. Strutton says one of their biggest bills is for trash collection. "We're in dire straits with finances right now," she says. "But we've raised our water bills and we've raised our trash bills to help take part of it, too."
Residents are upset. Each household is paying about $25 per month more than previously. Robbet Duarte says the hike in utilities will be hard - especially on the elderly in the community. "Why should we pay somebody else's debt? You know, I don't think that's right," he says. "You know, somebody went in there and stole the money, why should we pay for it? There's a lot of people here that live on checks - social security - and I tell you what, it's going to hurt...it's going to hurt."
Mountain Park's City Hall has also been literally left out in the cold. "We owe the gas company - we have no gas here in city hall. We have no heat other than our electric heaters," says Strutton. She says they don't have a new city clerk yet, so she's filling in until they hire a replacement.
Former City Clerk Morris has her preliminary hearing next week, and her trial can't come soon enough for some. "I think they need to push it real hard, on the gal - let her pay for it. Why should we pay for it? That's what I think about it," said Duarte.
Until a verdict is reached in the criminal case, the city can't receive any bond money which could go to pay a large portion of their debt. The town has paid their liability insurance, but is still $8,000 short on their property insurance. They're having a bean supper fundraiser on the 15th to try and help earn money to pay what they owe on their insurance, and generate enough gas to heat city hall.