Auditor: Town Creek board owes more than $500,000 to property owners

MGN Online

The following is a news release from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor.

Posted: Mar 4, 2019 11:07 PM
Updated: Mar 5, 2019 10:45 AM

The following is a news release from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor.

TUPELO, Miss. (Press Release) – Today (Monday) at a press conference State Auditor Shad White announced he has issued demand letters to each current member of the Town Creek Master Water Management District Board of Commissioners for approving unlawful per diem payments to themselves. The total of all demands is $523,388.76 and includes interest and cost of recovery. The names of the commissioners including one deceased individual and the corresponding demand amounts are:

James Robinson - $85,877.68
Jim Bucy - $88,100.56
Jim Long - $11,797.71
The late John Morgan - $103,122.60
Kenneth Oswalt - $95,748.05
Luther Oswalt - $23,565.43
Michael Pannell - $90,853.43
Teressa Winters - $24,323.30

The Town Creek Master Water Management District was created by court order in 1961 to provide flood management and improve water drainage in Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, and Union Counties. Water management districts were once popular in the United States, but Town Creek District is now one of four master water management districts remaining in the nation and the only one in Mississippi.

The Town Creek Board collects revenue by assessing a tax on property located within the special district. The tax is collected as part of property owners’ property taxes paid to their county tax collector. Nearly 4,700 parcels of land—which includes homes and commercial property like Barnes Crossing Mall—are located in the district. Over 4,400 of those parcels are in Lee County.

Using their taxing authority, the Board paid for retention ponds and drainage ditches over the past half-century. In addition, the Board accumulated a bank account balance of approximately $1.3 million.

As that balance increased, the Board increased their own pay from the district’s bank accounts. The Board has legal authority to receive maximum per diem payments of $12.50 for time spent conducting the district’s business. They are also reimbursed for actual expenses incurred for their work. Seventeen years ago, the Board began steadily increasing the per diem payments over the legal limit. By 2014, Board members were paying themselves $600 per meeting.

Auditor White said, “This is an example of a small, tucked-away board that very few people know about, using its power to overpay itself. This is the danger of hidden boards and small government offices. A lack of transparency opens the door to big losses for taxpayers.”

The illegal overpayments caused a loss of over $350,000 to local landowners. Board members will be personally responsible for paying back these losses plus interest and investigative costs.

“I am committed to recovering this money for property owners in Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, and Union Counties,” said White. “They took a loss—and many of them may not have even known they were paying a tax to this Board—and deserve to be made whole.”

Each Board member is covered by a surety bond. A bond is a type of insurance policy for taxpayers which helps ensure misspent public funds are recovered.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30674

Reported Deaths: 1107
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds248039
DeSoto157216
Madison129634
Jones112049
Neshoba98571
Rankin91612
Lauderdale90879
Harrison88610
Forrest86042
Scott77015
Jackson61616
Copiah60216
Washington5789
Leake57519
Holmes55141
Lee54718
Wayne54213
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51118
Yazoo5056
Leflore48651
Lowndes48312
Grenada4795
Lamar4567
Lincoln45434
Pike43112
Monroe39930
Lafayette3894
Sunflower3737
Attala35923
Covington3475
Panola3456
Newton3399
Bolivar33414
Adams31018
Simpson3103
Pontotoc2836
Tate27810
Chickasaw27618
Marion27511
Claiborne27010
Jasper2616
Noxubee2618
Winston2596
Pearl River25432
Clay24910
Marshall2263
Smith22011
Union2079
Clarke20624
Walthall2004
Coahoma1996
Kemper17814
Lawrence1741
Yalobusha1717
Carroll16411
Humphreys1479
Tallahatchie1364
Itawamba1358
Montgomery1312
Tippah13011
Calhoun1294
Hancock12613
Webster12510
Jefferson Davis1114
Prentiss1083
Jefferson1073
Greene1058
Tunica1003
Wilkinson949
Amite892
George863
Tishomingo781
Quitman760
Choctaw744
Alcorn682
Perry664
Stone641
Franklin452
Sharkey350
Benton340
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4944152
Montgomery4021103
Mobile4005134
Tuscaloosa222642
Marshall170210
Lee135937
Madison13597
Shelby122723
Morgan10715
Walker91424
Elmore90314
Franklin88914
Dallas8799
Baldwin8469
Etowah72713
DeKalb7075
Butler62428
Chambers62427
Tallapoosa58869
Autauga58312
Russell5450
Unassigned50323
Lauderdale4896
Limestone4810
Houston4794
Lowndes46721
Cullman4394
Pike4205
Colbert3916
Coffee3732
Bullock36810
St. Clair3662
Covington3547
Barbour3472
Escambia3376
Calhoun3325
Hale31021
Talladega3037
Marengo30211
Wilcox2908
Sumter28412
Dale2820
Clarke2736
Jackson2682
Winston2543
Chilton2392
Monroe2342
Blount2301
Pickens2276
Marion21913
Conecuh2047
Randolph2009
Choctaw19512
Bibb1871
Macon1859
Greene1838
Perry1701
Henry1323
Crenshaw1253
Lawrence1070
Washington1057
Cherokee857
Geneva790
Lamar751
Fayette681
Clay642
Coosa581
Cleburne361
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