Many people are celebrating the anniversary of the country’s independence this weekend. For members of the town of Argo, city council and mayor’s office, keeping independent and managing an astounding amount of debt is something constantly on their minds.

Electronic bingo might have been the answer to solving the $1.5 million in debt incurred by the previous administration. But with the Alabama Supreme Court taking time and care before ruling on bingo’s legality in the county, city officials are left waiting to see how long they can hold out before services might have to be reduced or cut off.

“It’s just about a dead halt right now,” Argo Mayor Paul Jennings said of the wait for the high court’s bingo ruling. “I don’t know if they anticipate a bad ruling. Evidently they’re expecting a long period of time before the ruling takes place. I’ve asked a lot of questions and evidently no one wants to talk right now. We sat here and waited six months [for the bingo ruling and town ordinance to be passed in Argo] and we ended up with a majority on council voting for it here.”

Within three weeks of the bingo issue being passed before the town’s council, things were put on hold by the high court.

Mayor Jennings, like Ashville’s Mayor Robert McKay—who is at the center of St. Clair’s bingo debacle—expressed frustration at having to wait to see if electronic bingo is ruled legal here.

“I’m glad they did it,” Jennings said of the stay put in place by the Supreme Court in June. “But my big question is: Why is it that broke St. Clair can’t do it yet? They’ve let Jefferson and Walker counties. You’ve got Greentrack down the road and other installations in Montgomery and across the state. That’s the part I don’t understand at all. I guess there’s probably an answer and a very educated lawyer that can explain it all, but I’m just not able to get it all.”

Besides being “confused and frustrated” over the wait for bingo to be ruled on, Jennings said that he and the council are doing all they can to keep further problems from arising in the town. “All we’re trying to do is survive, nothing more than that,” he said.

The town was approved in April for a loan that would restructure most of debt that was incurred by previous administration. The director of the fund said Argo could have loan by end of April.

“This is the end of June and we still don’t have it,” Jennings said, frustrated. But he said that he understood why it was taking so long. “Everything that has anything to do with politics is slow and that’s where we are. It is going to go through and we’re going to see it, eventually. We have the paper work ready for when it goes through.”

He said that though the loan will not do away with the debt the city owes, it will restructure it with a lower interest rate.

The move will allow Argo to take the lower interest rate and scatter the debt over 28 years free up a small amount of money because the payments are going to go down. “We still owe money, but this will allow for a better interest rate and add some things into the equation,” Jennings said. “It’s positive.”

Some members of the town’s council and other individuals in the town wanted the re-arranged debt solution instead of opting for electronic bingo to reel in debts.

One issue the town has been struggling with over the past few seasons is keeping police and fire services running for the town’s residents. Jennings said that money is going to have to come out of the general fund “in the next few weeks” to keep the fire department from going into the red.

The town recently got down to $15,000 a month in sales tax. “That was ridiculously low,” Jennings said. But the coffers are now being shored up as tax revenue is averaging somewhere in the mid-$20,000 range.

“We’re still getting a small amount of donation for fire services,” Jennings said. “The fire drive has continued, more donations have come in, too.”

A few months ago, Jennings lamented that the fire department might run out of funds as of this week.

The fire department recently took on a grant that allowed the town to pay salaries up front then get a portion of that money back through the grant. “That is what has gotten us to the end of June,” Jennings noted. “The variables that figure when we run out of money have changed.”

He said the town has one more draw from that grant. “That will help. That won’t fix everything but it will help,” he said.

New Faces in Argo

One changeup in the way things will be run in Argo included the resignation and appointment of a councilmember.

Two weeks ago, Councilman Jamey Curlee resigned his post and was replaced by Herschel Phillips.

In a written statement given to the council, Curlee said that it was “with a heavy heart and much time and deliberation, that I realize what must happen. Due to family and personal situations, I cannot effectively do my duties for the Argo city council.”

He said that the wished “the best for the council and ask that they do work together for the good of all Argo residents.”

Curlee further stated that though his time was short with the council, he had to put his “faith and family first.”

Jennings said that Phillips had been involved in the city’s well being since the previous administration. “He’s not just someone who’s come up in the last few months,” he said. “He’s donated many hours to the city. Some people had tried to get him to run in previous election.”

Another new face in the town’s roster is Tommy Suggs. He was hired as a “catch all” community service worker, who will perform numerous duties for the town.

“He has been one of the best hires that this town has ever made,” Jennings said of Suggs. “He’s here working endlessly at the town hall and other places in the last while. There’s nobody that you could have put before me that would have done as good a job as him. From cutting trees and grass and other stuff, he’s out doing so much good. He’s not just out there with equipment riding, he’s there with weed eaters and as hot as it’s been, well, he’s just one of the best.”

Though the council, city departments and mayor are keeping a close eye on the budget as the next few weeks roll on, Jennings is sure that things will work out for Argo.

“We’re still here and we have corrected a lot of problems,” Jennings said. “We still haven’t bankrupted, which has been rumored since I came in office. We’ve not shut down police of fire services. We’re still striving to do the right thing. We’re proud to say that certain creditors have worked with us, including Metro Bank. We’re just trying to keep at it.”

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