Mayor pays delinquent city bills

Aug. 06, 2013 @ 05:49 PM

High Point Mayor Bernita Sims on Tuesday paid the $538.78 she owed the city in delinquent utility bills from 2012.
The past-due amounts covered four billing cycles between August and December 2012 at 1720 Candlewood Court, a rental property where Sims used to reside.
Sims did not own the property, but the account for the city power, water and sewer service to the residence was in her name. The due dates for the unpaid bills ranged from October 2012 to Jan. 10, 2013. City records show the delinquencies included an attempted payment of $223.46 on Nov. 30, 2012, that was returned for insufficient funds, resulting in a $25 returned check fee.
The Enterprise first reported the delinquencies on its website Monday night and in Tuesday’s print edition.
Sims paid the outstanding balance by credit card on Tuesday morning.
“It’s been taken care of, and I no longer owe the city one thin dime,” she said. “The issue has been resolved.”
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.
“Had I not been working under certain impressions, this would have been handled a long time ago,” she said. “Had I known what I was told (Monday), I could have done this months ago. But I was told a different process was taking place, and so I was waiting on that process to happen.”
City officials said they typically require customers who try to pay a bill with a personal check that is returned to make subsequent payments by credit card, debit card, cash, money order or certified check.
Sims moved out of the Candlewood Court house in December 2012. Utility service to the property was cut off on Dec. 18. The mayor has not attempted to open another city utility account in her name. She now lists her official address as a residence on Rosecrest Drive.
The city tried to collect the past-due amount by forwarding the account in February to the North Carolina Debt Setoff Clearinghouse, a state program that allows garnishment of outstanding debt from tax refunds.
No payments were received through the program, and city emails show that officials were considering turning the matter over to a collection agency, which is the next step in the city’s process for recovering delinquent accounts.
Emails also show that city officials met with Sims as far back as January to try to persuade her to pay. In an email memo to Sims on Jan. 31, City Manager Strib Boynton wrote that he suggested deducting what was owed to the city from the mayor’s pay over a two-month period. The mayor declined that option, but said she would pay a portion of the past-due amount Jan. 25, he wrote.
She said she would pay the remainder of the balance by Feb. 8, according to the memo.
Email correspondence also showed 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.
The $321.70 cost of the sister’s airfare was repaid to the city in early February.
In an unrelated matter, Sims remains under investigation by the N.C. 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.