Local News

State Takes Over Princeville's Financial...

Posted February 4, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The state took the unprecedented action Tuesday of taking over Princeville's finances more than a century after the small Edgecombe County town was founded by freed slaves.

After 2-1/2 hours of discussion, the four-member executive committee of the state Local Government Commission unanimously voted to control the town's expenditures and receipts.

The decision marked the first time the commission has taken over financial operations of a municipality.

While the town isn't being totally taken over by the state, its budget will be monitored closely by state officials. The motion by state Auditor Ralph Campbell, a member of the commission, called for the state to ``impound the books.''

The town of 1,900 residents founded in 1865 is described by state historians as the oldest in the country chartered by blacks.

``There is going to be pain'' solving the town's problems, said state Treasurer Harlan Boyles, the commission chairman.

``As soon as matters can be rectified and corrected ... we would be delighted to turn it back.''

Boyles urged the politically-divided town's residents and officials to learn to work together to solve the town's problems.

``There have been serious questions raised about the responsiveness of the town manager, the staff, the mayor and some members of the town board. All of us have to strive hard to gain and maintain the confidence of those we serve,'' Boyles said.

Speaking directly to the town manager, Charles Tillman, Boyles said: ``If we're not gaining and maintaining, sometimes we have to re-evaluate whether we're in the right place at the right time.''

Tillman is cited by some residents as the root of problems in the town, where garbage isn't regularly collected and sewage still pools in some streets and yards because of broken equipment. Tillman lives in Durham and commutes 200 miles a day in a town car, a source of irritation to some citizens.

Tillman faces charges that he canceled health insurance premiums by present and past town employees and allegedly funneled the money into town coffers. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 27.

``We're dealing with a crisis situation here,'' Boyles said after a town board member disputed the town manager's assertion that sewage problems were being solved.

Tillman said six sewage pumping stations were broken or in need of repair and that the town of Tarboro was helping correct the problems.

While the current mayor, Walter Plemmer, told the state officials his town had potential to be great, a former mayor said the town's current administration was squandering town assets.

``You are helping to destroy a town that on Feb. 20 will be 120 years old,'' said Glennie Matthewson, an attorney and grandson of a town founder. ``...Cancer is destroying us from within.''

Matthewson was also once Mayor of Princeville. He says the town's problems can be solved in other ways.

The most pressing problem is whether the town's budget was legally adopted. Three of the town board's five members met Monday to adopt the budget and the town law requires that all members be at such emergency meetings.

The budget includes a general fund of $462,052 and a water and sewer fund of $326,766 for a total of $788,818. Tillman and town finance officer Berry Hines, also a town board member, couldn't provide the amounts after the meeting. The numbers were obtained from Boyles' staff.

In the past, the town has collected only about 50 percent of the taxes residents owed and has had no good system for billing water and sewer customers. Officials said the town is asking Edgecombe County to take over tax billing and operation of the water and sewer system. Repairs to the sewer system would be repaid by Princeville over a five-year period.

By ESTES THOMPSON,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.