MASON, Tennessee — An agreed-upon August 31 deadline for the town of Mason, Tennessee, to regain its financial independence from the state has come and gone, and the Tennessee Comptroller's Office said they have extended their oversight of the town's finances "indefinitely."
Mason and the Comptroller's Office caused controversy earlier this year when the state announced it was taking financial control over the majority-Black town near Memphis, which sits less than 10 minutes from Ford's Blue Oval City site - poised to add 6,000 jobs and billions of dollars of economic development to the region.
The town sued the state for its financial independence in April, and both sides settled on May 5, with the intent to end state control by August 31 if Mason passed certain requirements, namely hiring a certified financial advisor for the town and having a balanced town budget approved by the Comptroller.
What the State is saying
The Comptroller's Office said the CPA hired by the town to assess their finances was able to sign off on their first month's assessment, but could not sign off following months after digging deeper into the financial situation.
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The state said Mason did pass a budget for fiscal year 2022-2023, but it was not approved by the Comptroller's Office.
"The Town of Mason is showing some progress in righting its financial ship, but more work remains," The Comptroller's Office said. "Our Office will continue to work with Mason to help ensure its financial health moving forward."
Mainly, the town has to meet four conditions to receive final approval for their budget, outlined in an August 10 letter to Mason Mayor Emmitt Gooden:
- Water and Wastewater Financing Board: Mason must continue to work with a board to pay back its water and wastewater utility company, which consists of 48 monthly payments of around $5,000, to pay off a debt of nearly $250,000. This was considered one of the biggest justifications by the state in March to take control of the town's finances.
- Budgeted Revenues: The state said Mason can't use a $100,000 donation by the NAACP as a source of revenue in their budget, and must re-balance their budget to reflect such. The state said this donation accounted for around 14% of the town's total revenue for 2023. They also will require Mason to send monthly actual revenue and expense reports, saying the town's revenue for fines and forfeitures was much higher in 2021 than previous years.
- Amended Corrective Action Plan: The Comptroller's Office said Mason must comply with its amended corrective action plan - agreed upon on May 5 - citing an apparent inability by the town's hired CPA to assess the town's finances, and the above-mentioned balanced budget.
- Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Ordinance: Mason must submit an amended Fiscal Year 2023 budget ordinance to the Comptroller, including an amended detailed line-item budget, to meet the requirements.
Since that budget letter was issued, the town has met the condition addressing the NAACP donation, and the amended fiscal year 2023 ordinance, according to the state. The other conditions are still being addressed.
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What Mason is saying
Mason's Vice Mayor, Virginia Rivers, said the town had complied with everything outlined in the corrective action plan, and the letter outlining the new requirements, dated August 10, wasn't seen by the town until an August 26 email to Emmitt Gooden - just five days before the August 31 deadline.
"We weren't aware of these new requirements," Rivers said. "Also - if you're going to make new requirements, you should make us aware of them, and not at the last minute."
Rivers said the town will stay in compliance, and work to comply with the rest of the state's new requirements, but thinks more might be on the way.
"I wouldn't be surprised if [the state] did add more requirements, if you see what they've already added to the corrective action plan," Rivers said.
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The state said the Comptroller's supervision of the Town of Mason will end when the town has met the remaining four conditions, which includes the Town's compliance with the May 5 Corrective Action Plan, and further supplemented letters.