CLIO — Since being sworn in as mayor of Clio in July, Ben Petrone has worked hard to get a hand on the town’s state of affairs.
“The situation was worse than I thought,” he said.
With the town behind on several fiscal year audits, Petrone thought initially he could get the state to release some funds they had been holding but he was told no.
The only things those funds could be released to pay for were the health insurance and pension for town employees.
The town is in a catch-22. The town needs the audits to be completed but can’t afford to pay for them out of the general fund.
“If we can’t pay for them, and they are not going to get done, then we are going further and further in the hole.
But Petrone has seen things turned around by making a connection with James McLain and his nonprofit Generational Transformation and with Monday’s recent Board of Education vote to allow the town to lease the old School of Discovery.
Petrone spoke at the monthly September meeting to make the request.
As he toured the old School of Discovery complex, Petrone saw the possibilities of it being a good community center for the town.
He talked about McLain, who grew up in Clio and lives in the Charlotte area.
McLain envisioned the new building at the complex being used as teaching classrooms for the community. It would provide courses in computer use, individual finance, remedial courses in reading and writing.
Petrone said the nonprofit would pay for any necessary renovations, and for hiring the staff from grants and donations.
“He said he would be proud to work with me to make this property a wonderful community center for our town,” Petrone said.
Another piece of good news is to possibly receive help from state legislative representatives in getting some release of the funds.
If this happens, he said, they could get all of the audits completed and allow the town to start receiving the funding it should from the state.
“And have an open financial picture for the citizens of the town,” he said.
The fiscal year audits for 2011 and 2012 have been completed but not paid for so they haven’t been submitted to the state.
The town owes the auditors $24,000. Petrone added no other auditor will take on the task of doing any audits since the town owes money.
“So we have got to get that funding released,” he said.
The audits for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 must be completed before they can get to 2017, which has funds in it that the state owes the town.
“It’s a trek,” Petrone said. “There is no immediate fix. We are working on it, finding out what we need to do, and taking it one step at a time.”
With no audits done, it means the town can’t apply for various grants.
Petrone said the town can qualify for a lot of grant money but not until the audits are completed.
For instance, the town applied for a grant for the sewer plant to get the spray field redone but was denied.
Years ago, Petrone came to Clio to retire. He saw the town falling apart and wanted to do something.
His goals once the town is past its financial crisis include sprucing up the appearance of the town and getting owners to take care of dilapidated buildings.
He has contacted the Boy Scouts about finding an Eagle Scout who needs a community project.
Petrone would also like to work with the county in syncing the zoning codes with the individual towns.
With the town’s proximity to the Inland Port in Dillon, he felt that Clio should be a natural growth area since there are people who don’t want to live in the same place where they work.
“But to attract people, we are back to catch-22 where we have to get some things opened in Clio,” he said.
Petrone also wants the town to be able to provide regular town things such as grocery stores, restaurants, and a bank.
Petrone said the next two years will be full.
“There is more than two years worth of work there because it took more than two years to get into this situation,” he said. “It is not an immediate fix.”
Another goal is to make sure more of the town’s operations are transparent.
He said the town has a new police chief Will Horne.
“He is a strong leader and getting a lot changed.
One thing Petrone is pleased with is seeing the officers patrolling the town but also getting out of their vehicles to get to know residents.
He encouraged citizens to attend the monthly meeting, which is at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.
“Clio is a great little town that deserves better,” Petrone said. “Everyone here working together is going to do that.”