State Auditor investigating 'financial irregularities' in town of Spring Lake

Citizens of the town of Spring Lake were greeted by a locked front door while trying to pay their monthly utility bill at town hall.

Victor Meca walked up to the front door and read the flyer that states the building is "temporarily closed" as of Monday. It advises residents to conduct payments online, by mail, or through their drive-thru option on the side of the building.

Meca was left confused and wanting answers. "I don't know, it's not professional," he said.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell said that the State Auditor's office is currently investigating "financial irregularities" in the town. He wouldn't confirm if that was the reason the town hall was closed.

"To make sure it's all properly accounted for, reconciled, and audited," Folwell told ABC 11 through a Zoom interview.

This investigation is a culmination of years of Spring Lake dealing with financial scrutiny. State Auditor Beth Wood, who is a member of the Local Government Commission, a group that advises and assists municipalities dealing with financial strife, told state leaders in a meeting on June 22 that the LGC should take control of the town's finances.

"We are in there investigating and looking for missing money, so there are a lot of things going on," Wood said in that public meeting.

This was at a time when Spring Lake leaders had not passed a budget and were sitting at a $1.2 million shortfall. The LGC's pressure led to town leaders passing a "responsible" budget, according to a State Treasurer's press release.

Folwell said Spring Lake has been on the Unit Assistance List for quite a while. It's a watch list for municipalities that deal with financial trouble within their general fund, water and sewer funds, and other irregularities.

Meca said he worries the irregularities may be coming from their water bills. He said he and a friend have significantly different price tags on their bills, even though they live in the same neighborhood. "The water department was having trouble with charging," he added.

The State Treasurer's office was unable to say where the irregularities are coming from or how much money is unaccounted for right now.

Eyewitness News also reached out to Spring Lake Mayor Larry Dobbins about the closure of town hall and the investigation. He told he was not able to comment on either matter.

Meca believes it's time for a clean slate. "They should take them out and put responsible people, more professional," he said.

The full audit report is not currently available.
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