The State Auditor's Office is continuing its investigation into two former employees in the Moss Point Utilities Department to determine if they committed wrongdoing that led to millions in missing city revenue.
Mayor Billy Broomfield also said Monday the city has discovered “a large number of Moss Point residents” had been using illegal hookups that have contributed to the city's $3.4 million deficit in the Utilities Department.
What city crews have discovered, Broomfield said, is that some residents had found a way to bypass the city's metering system that keeps up with water usage at a home.
Other problems, Broomfield said, were “the loss of revenue that would have come from residents who did direct hookups for utilities the city didn't know about.” The city did not bill those residents, which Broomfield said, has accounted for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of the deficit.
Since the city began investigating the illegal hookups and other problems, the mayor said they are devising ways to ensure those people pay what they owe.
In the last month, Broomfield said, the city has collected on many of these illegal hookups, which has led to a 25 percent increase in revenues.
Questions lead to resignations
Two city workers – Kenya Bowens and Lakeisha Benton – promptly resigned when Broomfield confronted them late last year about the mounting deficit in the department, along with other alleged illegal activity.
Their resignations came after Broomfield learned certain employees had been allowing customers to make small cash payments on their mounting water bills in order to keep their services running.
Whatever payments were made, Broomfield has said, never made it into the city coffers because the money was never turned over to the Finance Department to deposit in the city's general fund.
At the time of her departure, Bowens had worked for the city since March 2012 as a laborer in the Public Works Department. She was later transferred to the Utilities Department in April 2012 but then resigned in 2016 because of the investigation.
Benton started working for the city in April 2012 as a clerk and resigned after the probe began.
The two former employees, Broomfield has confirmed, are the workers who stepped down after the city discovered the discrepancies within the department and questioned them.
The city called the District Attorney's Office and the State Auditor's Office to investigate.
City Clerk Stephanie Coleman heads up operations in the Utilities and Finance departments. She started noticing revenues in the Utility Department weren't adding up and decided to look into it.
The multimillion-dollar deficit was discovered shortly after Coleman started looking at the account and noticed the lack of payments on the bills residents are required to pay to have services at their home.
Soon, she and Broomfield suspected wrongdoing and started looking into the matter.
Through the internal probe, Broomfield said, it was determined the Utilities Department estimated $3.4 million deficit was in part due to certain “former” employees voiding out the receipts for the small payments on account and pocketing the cash.
In other cases, customer weren’t paying at all or the city didn't know they had an illegal hookup and were essentially receiving utilities for free.
Broomfield inherited the majority of the debt, about $2.1 million, when he took over as mayor in July 2013.
Broomfield said Monday the city will continue to investigate until justice is served.
The investigation into the Utilities Department is one of two ongoing in the city.
The State Auditor's Office also is investigating questionable spending from the Moss Point Police Department Benefit Fund. The account, according to police, paid for trips.