Village of South Jacksonville Has 17-Year Old Debt Appear In Recent Audit

By Benjamin Cox on August 24, 2020 at 12:20pm

A 17-year old debt has come up in the recent audit of the Village of South Jacksonville. The village’s new auditing firm Eck, Shafer, and Punke LLP of Springfield recently told the village of a $148,000 debt owed to Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative going back to 2003.

Village Office Manager Tiffanee Peters explained to the board on August 18th at their special meeting how the debt was found by the new auditors: “They asked about a note, and I say that loosely because it’s not through a bank, with Illinois Rural Electric from back when our water plant was built in 2003. The first page is a copy of an attorney letter and the rest of it is a plan. Apparently, through the years here and all of the switch over, here and there, with staffing changes – this was lost. Nobody had a clue. It’s shown up on our audit reports just as an outstanding debt.”

Peters said she contacted the village’s former auditor Zumbahlen, Eyth, Surratt, Foote, & Flynn, Ltd. and their principal CPA Suzanne Steckel, and they also said that the debt was in pre-existence to Steckel’s employment. Peters says Steckel didn’t know anything about the note either: “She said it was before her time and they just moved it forward as an outstanding thing on the audit. The new auditor made me contact Illinois Rural Electric. I spoke with their CPA and he did some research. It took him awhile to even dig up what was going on because they have had so many changes. It turns out we do owe them the $148,000 from 2003.”

IREC Operations Manager Randy Long says that turnover at their organization also had the debt get missed: “There is nobody currently employed at the cooperative that had anything to do with this. It came as a little bit of a surprise to us here today – myself and our board; and we’ll be discussing [the debt]. What I do know is that $148,000 was for what we would call contribution and aid of construction. It was to pay the capital costs for a line extension to South Jacksonville wells.”

Long says that the costs were for 2 new wells that had gone online in Naples near the Illinois River for the village’s water supply in September 2003.

According to WLDS News archives, the wells went online the week of September 4, 2003 after the older wells had begun to deteriorate. The new well installation and operation was the culmination of a 5-year project in 2003 that saw the village switch water sources.

Long says that money was also a part of economic development and support for a Scott County entity: “The intent of this agreement, to the best of my knowledge, was ultimately for South Jacksonville to be able to pay that debt off through a credit to one of the rural water cooperatives. It was purely an economic development move on the part of IREC to not only help South Jacksonville by allowing to pay this off over 20 years, but to pass that savings onto one of the rural water cooperatives to help them build equity. My understanding is that it was going to be Scott County Rural Water Cooperative, and through our economic development department, it was there to help Scott County and at that point in time, Scott County was the least served rural water county within our service territory.”

Long says that he can’t speak for the board and how it will rule on how the debt will be paid or if it will be paid. Peters told the Village Board that the note for the bill is due in 2023.

In a phone conversation with Trustee Dick Samples on Thursday last week, Samples, who was the village’s Code Enforcement Officer, says he doesn’t believe anything illegal happened and that it was simply a matter of the issue not getting closed. There was no timeline given for the decision.