Port Deposit mayor resigns in midst of town's fiscal woes Utility bills, taxes have gone uncollected

March 06, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl and David Folkenflik | Sherrie Ruhl and David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT -- The mayor of this small Cecil County town resigned last night amid cries for the impeachment of the Town Council and accusations of fiscal mismanagement.

Addressing residents who packed the council chambers, Mayor Erma M. Keetly announced her resignation after 21 years as a town official.

Her statement marked the first time Ms. Keetly, a lifelong resident of the town, had acknowledged any responsibility for a fiscal nightmare that has left thousands of dollars in utility bills and taxes uncollected.

Last week, Nancy L. Peters, the town's former treasurer, was convicted in Cecil Circuit Court on a misconduct charge for falsifying documents to cover up her failure to pay thousands of dollars in sewer and water taxes between 1990 and 1995.

In exchange for a reduced sentence, she agreed to testify against two other town residents whom she also helped to avoid taxes.

The state prosecutor's office has agreed to a suspended three-year sentence and a $2,500 fine if Mrs. Peters also pays the back taxes with interest and penalties.

The seven-member council voted last night to spend $2,500 for a computer program to track sewer bills for the past five years, and officials promised to lead the town responsibly.

"We are done playing around," said Harold D. Knox, a council member. "It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but if you don't pay, you don't stay."

Many residents said the moves came far too late.

"What do we have to do to impeach everyone and take control of our Town Council," said Port Deposit resident John Klisavage, echoing protests from others in the crowd of 75.

Mrs. Peters, who cited illness as the reason for her resignation after 12 years as the town's clerk and treasurer, also was accused of altering records to hide the failure of two other Port Deposit residents to pay taxes. One owes more than $5,000 on five properties; the other owes more than $1,700 on one property.

Moreover, many of the town's 750 residents have not paid property taxes or utility fees for five years, sparking charges that mismanagement of the town's finances was more widespread than the questions of illegal conduct. The town is owed more than $64,000 in back taxes.

No charges have been filed against Ms. Keetly. State prosecutors are investigating her handling of the town's finances, said Dave Culver, Cecil County administrator.

Mr. Culver said the state Office of Legislative Audits, which seized financial documents, began reviewing the town's finances last summer, then passed the investigation to the state prosecutor's office in the fall.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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