Photo by George Lauby
Ray Ravenscroft, at left, and John Lutz.
John Lutz and Ray Ravenscroft of the Sutherland Village Board of Trustees say they are taking good care of the finances, in a statement filed Monday, July 31 with the Lincoln County Clerk.Lutz and Ravenscroft face a recall effort.
In their own defense, they said the village is on track to finish the fiscal year $1.5 million under the annual budget.
The two men also say other accusations against them are vague and unproven.
Those statements are written at the top of petitions that are circulating to force a recall election.
It will take 199 valid signatures of Sutherland voters to force the election.
Chairman Lutz and Trustee Ravenscroft were elected in November. Since December, four employees of the village have resigned, another has been fired and two village board members have resigned.
Dissension in the village of Sutherland reached a boiling point in early June, when former village board members Mary Gibbons and Steve Seifer initiated the recall process.
Gibbons and Seifer said the governance of the village has been in chaos.
According to clerk-treasurer Madelaine Lamm, the village accountant said 41% of the village budget has been spent so far this fiscal year (2016-17), of which only two months remain.
If the village were to save $1.5 million in the fiscal year, it would be a 37% savings, which would be right in line with previous years, according to budget statements on file with the state of Nebraska.
The village has saved from 36-42% of their budgeted expenditures in each of the three years from 2013-14 through 2015-16.
Lutz also told the Bulletin the village board has cut back on unnecessary spending, including employee overtime and plush benefits. He said over the last seven years, the village paid $20,000 annually in overtime to employees, and paid the entire health insurance costs of gold plans for workers and their families.
When he and Ravenscroft asked the village clerk for health insurance agreements in mid-December, the clerk refused, saying the village records were personal, protected private information. When the two trustees insisted, the clerk and assistant clerk walked off the job, Lutz said.
A few months later, the village maintenance superintendent resigned as Lutz and Ravenscroft were investigating maintenance operations. They said they found unsafe conditions in the recycling area, with a non-functioning safety switch and a malfunctioning safety door on the cardboard crushing machine.
The maintenance director also convinced the previous board to buy a new road grader in 2015 without taking bids, Lutz said. A purchase of that size without an advertised bidding process is against the law. The purchase earned a letter of reprimand from the Nebraska State Auditor, which was sent to the Lincoln County Attorney's office.
And, a $27,000 mini-excavator and a crew cab pickup were also purchased for maintenance, even though there is only one person who does the work, Lutz said.
“We are trying to do what’s right for the village,” Ravenscroft told the Bulletin. “Of course, it is always a work in progress, but we try.”
This report was first published in the Bulletin's Aug. 2 print edition. It was clarified and updated for this publication.