OAKRIDGE, Ore. (KMTR) -- A bright spot in the financial realm for the city of Oakridge has lead to a surprise low point as the city rebounds from near bankruptcy.
A reality TV show is allowing Oakridge to give out $100 to each city resident this summer, but meanwhile, one of the people who helped get the city out of its financial problems has now resigned.
Last summer in July of 2011, the city of Oakridge was nearly bankrupt. Auditors later found out that the city overspent its budget for a long period of time.
Contrast that with what’s happening now, as the city is about ready to give away $100 to each city resident, thanks to an ABC network TV show called “Secret Millionaire.” City staff, including Mayor Don Hampton and City Administrator Bob DeLong says the gift is not a hoax.
The “Secret Millionaire” show filmed in Oakridge in October 2011 under the guise of a “documentary about volunteerism.” The “documentary” surrounded one person, who ended up giving several financial gifts to the city of Oakridge and other agencies.
After the conclusion of the show, the still anonymous person donated $50,000 to the city of Oakridge for an ambulance and paramedic over the course of three years.
Another donation was a gift $325,000 to the city of Oakridge to distribute to every man, woman and child in the city.
The city now has the work of distributing the cash. Sometime in early June, the city sent out surveys in all city residents’ water bills. The surveys asked for people to prove their residency in the city of Oakridge during October 2011 to gain access to the one-time $100 payment.
Monday, June 11th, 2012, Oakridge City Hall was flooded with people asking questions about the survey. According to several city staff members, the line got to the point where the three office staff workers couldn’t do their jobs because they were so busy fielding questions.
In response, Oakridge’s auditor and forensic accountant Tiffany Couch resigned from her work with the city at a city council work session on Monday evening.
Couch cited ethical concerns that the work she’s doing to help the city continue to run and be functional is being undermined by various issues, including this one. Couch learned of the money distribution Monday morning and was concerned about how staff weren’t able to conducted their work because of the sheer number of questions from people.
Couch also expressed concerns about the legal authorization that the city has to distribute the “Secret Millionaire”’s cash, also the process of collecting people’s information to do it, and how the city will distribute the cash. Another concern had to do with a letter about personal liability that city councilors may be subject to because of Oakridge's 2011 budget issues. Couch recently learned of information in the letter, dated January 2011, that she says would have changed her public testimony to city council.
Mayor Don Hampton says the resignation isn’t ideal, but the city will move forward and look to hire another accountant.
"Is this 325,000 that we're getting for the 100 dollars per person really worth it or is it just a giant headache? And for me, if I can give every resident 100 dollars, it's worth a little headache to the city to accomplish that,” said Hampton in an interview with NewsSource 16 on Monday.
The number of people asking questions about the $100 on Tuesday was much fewer on Tuesday, with around 20 people visiting Oakridge City Hall between 12-noon and 1 p.m.
A few residents NewsSource 16 spoke with on Tuesday say no matter what happens, they’re glad to see the help of the free money.
"God bless them whoever is doing it because we really needed this. Oakridge is a lot of old people now, older people and we really could use it.,” says Lynne Roach, a 6-year Oakridge resident.
"I just knew it was going to help a lot of people. There's a lot of people that just needed a little help,” says Carroll Slaven, a 48-year resident of the city of Oakridge.
Mayor Don Hampton says there are still some kinks to work out in the distribution of funds, including how people will get their money from the city and who exactly can collect. Hampton says he's confident that most of the "who can collect" issues will be resolved quickly and minimally though.
Hampton says the money is sitting in a trust fund now that is in the city’s control and that the money should be distributed by the end of July 2012.
As for the interest growing on the money, the city says it is still working on what it will do with the extra cash, if any extra cash grows from the initial sum.
According to Hampton, the "Secret Millionaire" episode should air by the end of the summer 2012.