HINTON — Officials in rural Hinton mishandled $123,700 in federal funds awarded in 2008, a recent state Department of Commerce inquiry found.
The department's investigation determined Hinton officials violated state bidding laws, failed to establish contractors were paid so-called Davis-Bacon wage and had other infractions associated with using federal funds.
The town will face special conditions if it wants to see similar funding.
Don Hackler, a spokesman for the Commerce Department, said these types of inquiries by the state agency are rare.
The federal Community Development Block Grant funds were intended to help drill much-needed water wells to serve the small town in Caddo County, documents show.
Shortly before Hinton was awarded the grant, the town had lost two working wells due to unsafe levels of nitrates, according to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
Hackler said the Commerce Department concluded its investigation into handling of the grant in July. He said no action was taken against the town, and the inquiry was closed as “Findings of Record.”
“Which means you broke the rules, but we really can't undo everything you did,” he said. “In the future, we will have special conditions on any awards to the town of Hinton ... we'll provide them additional technical assistance and monitor them extra closely, in the future, because of these issues.”
A June 21 letter from Ronnie Ward, director of community and economic development for the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments, detailed the town's mishandling of the funds. It said the town violated state bidding laws and failed to provide wage documentation.
Speaking at a Hinton Town Council meeting in May, Ward said a company owned by a town employee was used to do electrical work for a water well house. A company owned by a town employee's son was used to lay block pavement for the well house.
It also was learned that a contract was signed to drill one well before the federal funds were available and that work on the project started before a release of funds was received.
Ward's letter discloses that six invoices totaling $877.97 were double-billed for reimbursement from the federal government and that a $1,000 invoice related to the water well project was sent to the wrong agency for repayment.
Ward wrote that turnover among key town officials and staff contributed to problems with the grant's administration.
“The positions of mayor, all council members, the town clerk and the town treasurer are staffed with different individuals than those who would have received an initial briefing from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce,” Ward wrote. “Quiet simply, when turnovers in key positions occur in local government, things sometimes slip through the cracks — even important things.”
Federal grants are essential in small towns, he wrote. “Hinton can ill-afford to have its privilege of applying for future CDBG grants revoked.”