OVERTON, Texas (KETK) – Inside a packed city council meeting, people left in shock, after the decision to take out a 50-thousand dollar loan was approved on October 13.
The special meeting was called, and as word spread throughout the community, a large crowd attended, eager to let their opinions be heard. The only item on the agenda listed was the discussion and decision of a 50-thousand dollar loan from Texas Bank and Trust to pay city employees and city bills.
It came as a split decision, with half the city council approving the loan, and the other half in opposition of it.
Speaker after speaker, “how long have you guys known that we needed a loan to get us by?” questioned one resident, voicing their biggest worries.
For many Overton residents the loan came as a shock. However, Councilman Reggie Thompson says, “I’m very aware of the finances in the city.”
Thompson has been working with the city for less than a year, and was one of the only councilmembers, to ask his fellow leaders, questions surrounding the loan.
“It’s important for us to know the facts, rights. The statistics, the information before we can make a logical and rational decision, and those were not presented,” Thompson told KETK.
Among the most pressing questions, including how much interest the loan would collect, and what exact bills the money would be used to pay.
Overton leaders are trying to stay afloat, some saying without the loan, city employees wouldn’t receive a paycheck at the end of the week. However, many worry borrowing the money, could come at a cost.
“So we are going to be paying back a loan with property money that we don’t have,” asked Denise Hill during the special meeting.
Denise and her husband Josh urged the council to consider other ways to cut costs. Including collecting delinquent property taxes, and cutting city employees’ salaries. As of this writing, city employees make up over 1 million dollars in total.
“What have we done? Have we not budgeted correctly? Have we not prepared for this moment? And then also, to go and get a loan 7 days before the meeting and already have it approved before you even bring it to the public to me, that’s a red flag,” expressed Josh in a sit down interview with KETK.
Josh Hill is no stranger to Overton, currently running for a position on the City Council. He believes transparency is the problem. Listening to the stories of people who spent their entire life in Overton, watching it change year after year, Josh believes change should start with city leadership.
However, Overton City Mayor, C.R. Evans, has a different idea of what change will look like.
“I would hate to cut the employee’s pay, and the idea of cutting, that was proposed, by 20 percent is upsurd,” said Evans.
Mayor Evans says city employees rely on their paycheck, and for all the work they do, should be paid on time. Evans expressed his confidence, that the 50-thousand dollar loan will be paid back in full, using funds from a coronavirus relief grant the city expects to get.
“It is not uncommon practice. It’s not something that we like to do, it’s certainty not something that we want to do, but if we have to do it, we’ll do it,” said Evans in a telephone interview.
Mayor Evans says taking loans is a common practice for cities. Overton has borrowed money from banks three times in the past five years, he says. However, most of the time, the public doesn’t even know it’s happening. Listening to the public voice their concerns, Evans says he understands, but will do what is necessary to keep the city running as normal.
Nearly 3,000 people call the city of Overton home, and if you ask anyone who grew up in the small town, downtown was the center hub, buzzing with people. However, as years have gone by, streets and buildings have not been as maintained as some believe it should be. Residents pointing to financial issues as the reason why some things have fallen by the waist side, but want to get the city back on track.
“This is the same routine they’ve always had, since I’ve been here. For nine years, this cycle can’t keep being repeated, so we were hoping to get answers which we obviously did not get all those answers,” said Donna Lewis, another resident who attended the special meeting demanding answers.
Lewis says the biggest problem is transparency and accountability. She says city leaders expect residents to pay their taxes, and do the right thing for Overton, and now residents are expecting the same from local leaders.
“When we’re not getting what we want in our personal lives, do we not go out and shop for something better?” questioned Lewis, “We do. We give up things if we can’t afford it, the city should be doing the same thing, the city needs to be transparent with the citizens.”
The agenda for the Special Meeting was signed by the late Rachel Gafford, the city secretary.
“She was a remarkable person. In the past meetings there were several questions that I realized, that would have been her place to answer,” said Mayor Evans. Evans made a point, to remember Gafford.
Gafford joined the city back in 2014. The city council and staff expressed their grief, describing her as a tremendous asset and team member. They added, the Gafford’s enthusiasm cannot be replaced, but promise to honor her passion for the city.
As Overton borrow’s money to keep the lights on, many people say they have been left in the dark during the entire process, worried what this could mean for the future.
However, Mayor Evans, says there is no need to worry, and that the city will pay back the loan within the 90 day deadline.
SERVICES HAVE NOT BEEN ANNOUNCED YET.