News Ticker

Is Mount Vernon Mayor Using Water Dept. As A Slush Fund Operation?

Mount Vernon City Council Accuses Mayor Richard Thomas Of Taking Water Bill Revenue And Transferring It To Accounts Of His Choosing. Mayor Thomas And Water Superintendent Arena Deny Allegations

Mount Vernon – Mount Vernon City Council members are calling for an investigation after claiming Thomas is using the Water Department as a slush fund operation. During a press conference in the City Hall Rotunda, Monday morning Councilmen Andre Wallace and Marcus Griffith accused Mount Vernon Mayor Richard W. Thomas of taking water bill revenue and transferring it to accounts of his choosing (see video below). Councilman Wallace said taxpayer’s money is going down the drain literally.

Several residents have reached out to Black Westchester about the drastic increase in their water bills over the past two months. Residents informed BW that when they complained to the Water Department and asked for an explanation they were all told they must have a leak.

Mt. Vernon Water Superintendent John Arena is disputing the claims, “This has nothing to do with the mayor … any extra money goes to the comptroller,” Arena told News 12. Arena says the city recently raised rates for the first time in three years, but he does not anticipate another hike in the near future. Arena added that the rate went up because New York City, where Mount Vernon buys its water from, raised rates.

Arena shared that there was an increase from $3.30 per hundred cubic feet to $3.75 per hundred cubic feet, an increase of 12.766%, the first increase in three years. While the chart (see below) presented by Councilman Wallace confirms what Arena says about the city recently raising rates for the first time in three years, because New York City, where Mount Vernon buys its water from, raised rates, it does not explain resident claims their bills have doubled and tripled.

“If you have examined your Mount Vernon water bill lately, you will notice that over the last couple of years the amount has miraculously doubled or even tripled. There can only be a couple of plausible reasons for the increase,” Councilman Wallace tells BW. “One possibility is that Mount Vernon residents are simply using more water. But, the most current Water Quality Reports issued by the Board of Water Supply actually show that Mount Vernon used less water in 2017 than we did in 2016. So, that doesn’t explain such a huge increase. The second possibility is that the City Council raised the water rate, charging more per 100 cubic feet, and making the same amount of water usage more expensive, but that didn’t happen either. The Council’s water rate has remained the same since 2015 ($3.30 per 100 cubic feet). If the City of New York raised the price for its water (which we are told it did not), that wouldn’t explain it either. The only other plausible explanation is that the water bills are being manipulated by the Mayor to charge you more for the same usage. For the past six months, I have asked the Board of Water Supply for documents and explanations to justify this increase. To date, I’ve received no paperwork, justification, or reason for the increases in the water bills. They have been unwilling to provide the City Council or the Comptroller with an accounting of expenditures being made out of their department. Indeed, Mayor Thomas even indicated there were about 1 million dollars in excess funds at the end of last year but refused to turn those funds over to the Comptroller.”

Several residents have reached out to Black Westchester about the drastic increase in their water bills over the past two months. Residents informed BW that when they complained to the Water Department and asked for an explanation they were all told they must have a leak.

Our research shows that, historically, the Water Department’s revenue has exceeded its expenses. Annually, such excess revenue was transferred to the City’s general fund so the Comptroller can balance the city’s books. Councilman Wallace said at the presser and our interview following that, this isn’t the case until the Thomas Administration.

“Now, abusive increases and deliberate overcharging are being used to keep the Water Department and whatever pet project the Mayor wants to fund in the black, never making its way to the city,” explains Councilman Wallace. Lawless behavior by Mayor Thomas’s administration has caused and continues to cause hardship on citizens as well as businesses in the City of Mount Vernon. If you don’t pay the inflated water bills, the Mayor places a lien on your property for failure to pay, charging interest on top of the already outrageous amounts. Liens can turn into foreclosures and eventually seizures of property. This fleecing of our citizens is appalling. What the money is ultimately being used for doesn’t matter. City-sponsored block parties, back-pack giveaways, popular entertainers for City-fest, kickbacks, legal defense funds, 50” flat screen TV’s, family members, new cars, or funneling money to offshore bank accounts? The point is that nobody outside of the Mayor’s office knows. There’s no transparency in the system, and that is extremely dangerous. We can let the Attorney General and the District Attorney decide whether it is also criminal.

Since these are serious allegations we reached out to Mayor Thomas and his spokesperson Maria Donovan to get a quote and allow him to tell his side of the story. He denied the allegations and used an infamous Trumpism, “Deep State,” to describe the council members.

“Master fabricator Wallace distorts anything to fit his fake news,’ Mayor Thomas tells Black Westchester. “As Water Superintendent John Arena stated, New York City water transmission rates increased and caused the overall bill to rise. First, they were in denial about illegal dumping at Memorial Field, than absolute obstruction on clean water compliance, now they want to manufacture pulp fiction like good “Deep State” loyalists. Plain and simple – it’s SAD shenanigans.”

Councilmen Wallace and Griffith informed all residents to check their water bills and report any irregularities and drastic increases to the Council or City Clerk.

“Don’t just check the amount of your bill, but the usage you are being billed for,” Councilman Griffith informed. “The Water Department is seperate from city government, The city structure is that the Mayor has total control of monies in the water department.”

When asked for further explanation, Councilman Wallace – who has been a longtime adversary of Mayor Thomas – told BW,

“Usage for a family of four has gone down. Yet, the price of water has doubled and tripled,” Wallace said at the presser. “Residents do not take my word for it, check your water bills for yourself. We need federal intervention to investigate. We need a forensic audit of the Water Department. I would love to be wrong.”

Councilman Wallace told Black Westchester, “If you remember the New York State Attorney General’s office’s investigation that led to corruption charges of Mayor Thomas, begin as an investigation of irregularities in the Water Dept.”

Mayor Thomas was arrested and arraigned Monday, March 12th on criminal charges including grand larceny as part of a corruption probe by the New York State Attorney General’s Office into campaign finance irregularities. He was later indicted by a grand jury, Wednesday, May 16th on charges that he stole campaign funds and failed to disclose his receipt of inaugural funds that he used for personal expenses. Black Westchester has been told the case may be scheduled to begin in January 2019, although no date was given when we contacted the court.

Councilman Wallace told BW, while this may be new to Mount Vernon, this is an old political scam, most notably used by Chicago’s former Mayor, Richard M. Daley.

“This scam has been going on in Chicago for decades and, it appears, that it has found its way to Mount Vernon. Chicago’s former Mayor, Richard Daley, recognized that people tend to scrutinize property tax bills far more carefully than water bills. If questioned about the scheme, he would just say that the money was needed to fix the city’s water infrastructure,” Councilman Wallace shares with BW. “No one could prove that wasn’t the case and didn’t have the ability to monitor whether the work was being done at all. In reality, he was just using those funds for his own corrupt purposes, giving spoils to his cronies and friends. It looks like the same thing is happening here today.”

Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story. Let us know about your water bills. Has it changed and if so, by how much? If it has remained the same let us know that too. If you have an irregularity in your water bills email us at BlackWestchesterMag@gmail.com.

 

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About AJ Woodson (2279 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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