NITRO - City Treasurer John Young remembers his first day on the job on Nov. 2, 2007 - his wife's birthday
The city had $57,000 in the bank, but was $879,000 in debt. An audit of the city's books that first year found 19 violations.
"Bank statements hadn't even been opened," Young recalled. "We were on the verge of going bankrupt."
It took about two years of holding down spending, negotiating payment plans with creditors and getting assistance from the Kanawha County Commission and others to restore the town's financial status.
The town currently has about $81,000 in payables and $762,000 in the bank. During last week's council meeting, Young said the most recent audit of the city's books found only seven violations and included a statement about how much the city's financial records have improved.
A recent controversy about $58,000 in unauthorized expenditures in police funds has led to several changes regarding how money is spent.
In May, an independent investigation found that officials had bent the rules when they spent the money but had not done anything wrong intentionally. It also cited city officials for a lack of oversight.
Known in the past for division, city leaders say they are united in an effort to improve Nitro.
After a little more than one month in office, Mayor Dave Casebolt said he sees support for a variety of changes.
"We have a 20-year plan with the things we want to get done, and things are getting done," said Casebolt, who served on council before defeating long-time Mayor Rusty Casto in June. "We've got everyone on the same page and are headed toward the same goal."
Last week's council meeting - the third under the new administration - drew a crowd of about 20. Those speaking during the public comment period praised council members for working together to improve the town.
A meeting at the Nitro Convention and Visitors Bureau prior to that was filled with citizens and council members.
"In the past when I came in and saw a large group of people at a council meeting, I would think something was wrong," Councilman Craig Matthews said. "People are coming and want to help the city or give ideas. There seems to be an excitement about moving forward."
Matthews said the new outlook began with the last administration when Casto and the last council began to implement financial improvements and the city began to benefit from revenues from the hotel/motel tax through an expansion at Mardi Gras Casino and Hotel.
That gives the city and the Convention and Visitors Bureau about $240,000 a year for recreation and park improvements as well as money to make the city more attractive to potential new businesses. Matthews pointed to improvements at Ridenour Lake such as shelters, a boat ramp and an upcoming new dog park.
Matthews also remembers how deep the financial crisis was in the city just a few years ago.
"I sat through that first audit review," he said. "Everything was a mess. There was no paperwork to even audit, which meant not knowing where the money was going."
Young said his first two years with the city were difficult. The city was three years behind on payments for pensions for police and fire department employees and also was behind in payments to the state Public Employees Insurance Agency. He said the latter problem nearly led to the loss of health insurance for city employees, but an agreement was reached with the help of the Kanawha County Commission to keep the Nitro employees insured.
During those first two years, every purchase order had to go through Young or the mayor.
"I wouldn't do anything to cause a safety issue," he said. "But we were in a position that we couldn't spend money."
Young remembered a time when money was tight and former Police Chief Jack Jordan came in asking for a new lock for a bathroom door.
"I went to a hardware store and bought a hook to use as a lock," he said. "I think it cost about 60 cents. "
With a freeze on any non-essential spending, and the debts coming down from new revenues and consistent payment plans with creditors, the city was able to get back to more solid financial ground. Young said he shopped for a better premium for liability insurance, saving the city about $264,000 a year.
Nitro did not raise taxes to get out of its financial crisis, he said.