State Auditor accuses Tupelo board of illegally paying themselves over $500,000

State Auditor accuses Tupelo board of illegally paying themselves over $500,000
(Source: Mississippi Office of the State Auditor)

TUPELO, MS (WLBT) - State Auditor Shad White has issued demand letters to each member of the Town Creek Master Water Management District Board of Commissioners for approving illegal payments to themselves for a total of $523,388.76. This amount includes interest and cost of recovery.

Created in 1961, the TCMWMD was created to provide flood management and improve water draining in Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, and Union counties.

Town Creek Board obtaines revenue by assessing tax on the property located in the district. The tax is then collected as part of land owners’s property taxes which were paid to the county tax collector.

The Board would accumulate a bank account balance of $1.3 million, and as the amount increased, the Statue Auditor says the member’s salary increased as well.

According to White, the Board had legal authority to receive $12.50 per meeting, but the commissioners began steadily increasing these per diem payments over the course of 17 years.

By 2014, the Board members were being paid $600 per meeting.

These illegal payments would cost landowners $350,000.

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

Each Board member will be personally responsible for paying back the losses plus the cost of the investigation.

The commissioners, including one deceased member, and the total amount they owe are as follows:

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

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