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State Takes Over Princeville's Financial...

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RALEIGH (AP) — The state took theunprecedented action Tuesdayof taking over Princeville's finances more than a century after thesmall Edgecombe County town was founded by freed slaves.

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

The decision marked the first time the commission has takenoverfinancial operations of a municipality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tillman is cited by some residents as the root of problems inthe town, where garbage isn't regularly collected and sewage stillpools 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 insurancepremiumsby present and past town employees and allegedly funneled themoney into town coffers. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 27.

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

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

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

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

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

The most pressing problem is whether the town's budget waslegally adopted. Three of the town board's five members met Mondayto adopt the budget and the town law requires that all members beat such emergency meetings.

The budget includes a general fund of $462,052 and a water andsewer fund of $326,766 for a total of $788,818. Tillman and townfinance officer Berry Hines, also a town board member, couldn'tprovide the amounts after the meeting. The numbers were obtainedfrom Boyles' staff.

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

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