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Fiscal administrator leaving Sterlington, $600k in bank



MONROE, La. – The state-appointed fiscal administrator in charge of making the town of Sterlington solvent recently reported the town’s finances to be in strong health and asked to be relieved of his post by June 1.

I.M. “Junior” Shelton Jr. took the position as Sterlington’s fiscal administrator in August 2019, at which time the state Fiscal Review Committee tasked him with helping the town pay its creditors and find new sources of revenues to pay off some $20 million in remaining debts.

“During this time, we have increased revenues sufficiently to pay ALL debts, bonded and otherwise,” Shelton wrote in an email obtained by The Ouachita Citizen. “The town, I believe, is ready to take on the responsibility of its fiscal well-being themselves.”

Sterlington racked up millions in debt under the tenure of former Mayor Vern Breland to expand its water and sewer system, pursue the establishment of municipally-operated utilities, lengthy litigation, and the construction of the Sterlington Sports Complex. After numerous audit findings and news reports concerning questionable financial practices, Breland now faces criminal charges stemming from his time as mayor.

Under Shelton, Sterlington negotiated new fees with Greater Ouachita Water Co., hiked sewer rates and levied a sales tax on local businesses to gin up the revenues needed to meet the town’s debt service payments.

Sterlington’s failure to make a debt service payment in late 2018 was what originally drew the Fiscal Review Committee’s attention and led to Shelton’s appointment.

“I consider him a mentor, and I’ll miss him,” said Town Councilman Matt Talbert, of Shelton. “I learned a lot from him, but ultimately, there’s an end to this. I knew those resolutions were part of the exit plan, I just didn’t know it would be so soon.”

Mayor Caesar Velasquez was unavailable for comment.

“I think this news says we’ve crawled our way back to air,” said Town Councilman Zack Howse. “We’re poised to head in the right direction. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Mr. Shelton. He did a great job of letting us take the reins when we needed to. We’re very grateful to have had him help us. That was the goal all along, so that we could stand on our own.”

Town Councilman Ron Hill declined to comment because, he said, he was still contemplating the news of Shelton’s exit.

Town Councilman Brian McCarthy was unavailable for comment.

According to Howse, Sterlington officials did not know how to raise the money to pay off the several million owed by Sterlington, until after Shelton arrived.

“I think we have all the systems in place to pay all the debt going forward,” Howse said. “Before, we didn’t even know where the money would come from.”

Under Shelton, the balance of Sterlington’s general fund rose from $40,000 to $600,000.

Howse expressed optimism about Sterlington’s future, too.

“Houses are selling quickly, and new developments are coming,” Howse said. “We’re getting to where all those negatives are behind us.”

Monroe attorney Devin Jones, who serves as the town’s legal counsel, said Shelton indicated his work is done.

“There’s one more step to go through, submitting a three-year report setting forth goals for the town’s financial stability,” Jones said.

Shelton’s final report would be reviewed by members of the Fiscal Review Committee, which is made up of representatives from the state Legislative Auditor’s office, the state Attorney General’s office, and the state Treasurer’s office.

Shelton’s tenure as fiscal administrator would not officially conclude until the Attorney General’s office submitted a motion to terminate the town’s period of fiscal administration to the Fourth Judicial District Court, according to Jones.