Finally, River Falls has cash

Published 12:25 am Friday, June 14, 2013

Six months into the year and for the first time in recent memory, the River Falls town coffers are full and growing.

Current bank balances as of May 31 are a far cry from October when 91-year-old Mary Hixon was arrested and pleaded guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from the town during the three years of a 30-plus year career as mayor.

Mayor Patricia Gunter said Thursday, “Things are way better than we could have ever imagined happening in the length of time that we’ve been in office. I can’t pinpoint one area that really shocked us with the amount of money that was coming, because we didn’t know what to expect.

“And, I think we’re really making a difference with the people who didn’t want to see things change in River Falls,” she said.

Gunter said in November, “we didn’t know what to do,” when council members learned the town owed $40,000 in past due bills, a $29,000 loan payment due and hadn’t had liability insurance on any city property – including its police car – since 2007.

“None of the banking accounts were set up right,” she said. “There were two accounts – the general fund and the water account. Total, we had $12,000 in the bank. That’s it. (Hixon, who then also served as the town’s bookkeeper) had the sales tax money going into the water account and the gas tax money going into the general fund. None of it was right.”

Gunter said the council approached a local bank for a short-term loan to meet its debt obligation; however, thanks to good bookkeeping and a concerted effort to collect the town’s past due water bills – some of which hadn’t been paid in years – the town was able to make it into the black.

“We didn’t have to have (the loan),” she said. “It’s not that we’re miracle workers. It’s just that as town officials, we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re not paying salaries to people who aren’t working. The money is going into the right accounts, and we’re paying our bills on time.”

Currently, the town is maintaining 12 accounts, with nearly $50,000 in its general fund account; $13,000 in its capital improvement fund; $36,000 in its gas tax funds and $15,000 in its municipal court fund. The town also has a fund set aside to meet the $29,000 annual water system loan payment.

Gunter said the town’s financial situation has improved so much, council members can begin planning for the future.

“We’ve applied for a Wiregrass RC&D grant that, if funded, would let us building a park on the lot next to town hall,” she said. “Of course, we’d have to start small with a pavilion, and then add some swings and benches, but it’s a start.”

But the town hasn’t put all of its issues away. Included in the total of Hixon’s misappropriations was more than $80,000 in salaries paid to Hixon’s one-time live-in Richard Moss for work he did not perform as a “nighttime policeman.” No records of that work time were found, and Moss was indicted by a grand jury on five counts of theft. He is now free on a $135,000 bond. According to the county district attorney’s office, no trial date is set in the case as of Thursday.

Hixon, who was ordered to resign her post as mayor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison; however, in consideration of “her advanced age,” was given five years probation. She was ordered to pay $200 per month in restitution and a lien placed on her home and any other real property. She was also ordered to pay $53 in restitution to the district attorney’s office, as well as other assorted court costs and fees.