Sesser pays debt as it lowers taxes - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Sesser pays debt as it lowers taxes

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SESSER -- A town that almost drowned it debt last year boasts money in the bank.

Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore says when he took office a couple years ago, the city had a couple hundred thousand dollars in the bank. Now it has close to two million. and residents call the transformation, nothing short of miraculous. 

Steve Miller calls it a new day in Sesser, after watching the town's new mayor clean up what he calls its disastrous finances.

"He continues to amaze everybody.  But when we talked last year, I was pretty skeptical that he could pull it off," said Miller.

Hundreds felt the same way as they gathered for a city council meeting last year to demand answers.

"I want to know who's going to be accountable for all the money that's been taken, stolen from the city, " said Miller at the November 2014 meeting.

But one year later, Jason Ashmore has pulled off what most call, nothing short of a miracle.

He's paid off almost a third of the town's million dollar debt, and kept the city running.

"It's been tough, don't get me wrong. We've struggled but we've all worked together as a team...and so far we're doing very well," Ashmore said.

He took suggestions from city workers and leaders and cut the budget to the bone.

What did Sesser leaders cut first?  The city's investment in a money-losing restaurant connected to the town's historic opera house.  The mayor says that saved a bundle.

"We were able to save several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by not running that restaurant. Restaurants should be run by the private sector, not the government," said Ashmore.

And at the same time he cut the town's big spending.

"If we don't have the money to pay for it... we don't do it," he said.

 He cut sales taxes half a percent.

"That can make a difference between somebody getting a bid or not getting a bid or getting a big construction job, that 1/2 percent can make a big difference," he said.

He says it helped bring in new business, while keeping tax income steady.

"It's only by teamwork and community support is why we're able to be where we're at right now.  We still got lots of work to do," said Ashmore.

He aims to have the town's debt paid off in four years, and promote new initiatives, like this website which opens the town's finances to everyone, turning critics like Steve Miller, into fans.

"He's put life back into Sesser, is what he's done," said Miller.

Mayor Ashmore tells us the investigation into Sesser's previous finances remains in the hands of the Illinois State Police and the Franklin County State's Attorney.

We asked for an update on the investigation Thursday from State's Attorney Evan Owens.

As of Thursday night, we were still waiting to hear back.

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