Mayor delinquent on city utility bills
UPDATE: High Point Mayor Bernita Sims on Tuesday said she paid the $538.78 owed the city in delinquent utility bills from 2012.
City Manager Strib Boynton said Sims paid the outstanding balance by credit card on Tuesday morning. The missed payments stemmed from four billing cycles on the Candlewood Court rental property where she used to reside. Sims said the delinquencies were an oversight resulting from confusion about whether to pay the city or another agency, since the matter had been referred to a state collection program.
High Point Mayor Bernita Sims owes the city hundreds of dollars in utility bills, some of which are nearly a year past due, according to city records.
As of Monday, the unpaid balance for electricity, water and sewer-related charges for Sims’ previous residence at 1720 Candlewood Court was $538.78. The balance covers four billing cycles between Aug. 21, 2012, and Dec. 18, 2012. The due dates for the unpaid bills ranged from October 2012 until Jan. 10. City records show the delinquencies include an attempted payment of $223.46 on Nov. 30, 2012, that was returned for insufficient funds, resulting in a $25 returned check fee.
Sims rented the property and did not own it, but the account for the utilities serving the property was in her name.
Sims said she moved out in December 2012.
The city has tried to collect the balance since January, shutting off utility service to the property and forwarding the account to a state program that allows garnishment of the past due amounts from tax refunds. No payment from tax returns has been made, according to city officials. The city’s next alternative is to refer the matter to a collection agency, which officials have not yet done.
Sims said she is able to pay the amount due and intends to do so, but has been unclear on whether she can still pay the city directly, since the matter has been referred to the state.
“If the city says, ‘Yes, we’ll take it,’ then they can have it tomorrow,” Sims said Monday.
City officials said she can still pay the city directly.
News of the delinquent account comes on the heels of other financial troubles involving the mayor.
Sims remains under investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in connection with her handling of the estate of a family member in Maryland. SBI agents have looked into an allegation that Sims passed a worthless $7,000 check to one of the estate’s heirs, and recently expanded the investigation to look into possible misuse and misappropriation of funds from the estate.
Prosecutors with the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office have not yet determined whether to file charges.
The High Point Enterprise obtained email correspondence related to Sims’ delinquent city account following a public records request.
The documents show that city funds were used to pay for the airfare of one of Sims’ sisters who accompanied her to Boston for a National League of Cities event in November 2012. The mayor serves on the NLC board of directors.
In a Jan. 31 email memo to Sims, City Manager Strib Boynton wrote that the mayor “committed to me that your sister would reimburse the city” for her $321.70 airfare following a meeting on Jan. 25.
Boynton’s memo stated that the reimbursement had not been made. The airfare apparently was paid shortly thereafter, because, in a subsequent memo on Feb. 4, Boynton thanked Sims for the reimbursement.
He went on to state that Sims had said payment would be made “in the next couple of weeks on the $538.78 still remaining in past due utility bills. Would you please let me know when we can expect the payment? I do not like this any better than you do, however as a matter of practice this is really past the time that we normally refer matters like this to a collection agency and to North Carolina’s Debt Setoff Clearinghouse.”
In his Jan. 31 memo, Boynton advised Sims that one alternative would be to refer the matter to the City Council “for their review, guidance and consideration.”
In the same memo, he wrote, “My staff has tried to help and work with you, but unresolved, this matter has left my staff and me in an untenable and unsustainable position.”