HAMPTON, Fla. - With its former mayor in jail on drug charges and after most other city employees who walked out after a state audit found missing money and possibly criminal mismanagement, the city of Hampton may not be around much longer.
To anyone who ever got a speeding ticket while passing through the two miles of U.S. 301 within the Hampton city limits, this is welcome news.
With only 477 residents, the city has brought in as much as $200,000 annually from traffic citations.
"This town exists apparently just to write speeding tickets," state Sen. Rob Bradley, who represents Bradford County, told Time magazine earlier this month.
After a state audit found more than two dozen violations of city, state and federal laws, Florida legislators decided the easiest solution would be to simply dissolve the city.
"Every month I have a $300 water bill," resident Betty Koby said. "And I'm not saying nobody did me wrong, but I paid cash.... I've never gotten a receipt."
Incorrectly assessing and documenting water fees and charges were just one of 31 issues found in an audit presented to the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Feb. 10. The audit also found the city kept careless records of its expenses for years, sometimes keeping no records at all.
The audit also found the city kept careless records of its expenses for years (when it recorded them at all), overpaid a former clerk by $9,000, spent more than $27,000 without demonstrating a public purpose, didn't keep records of assigned vehicles for its employees, failed to keep track of much of its water supply and admitted that some of its records were "lost in a swamp."
The audit committee unanimously recommended a criminal investigation of the city.
Within a day or two of the audit's release, the city's police chief and clerk resigned -- as did other city employees. On Wednesday, Hampton's storefront City Hall was locked and the lights were off, even though the sign out says it should be open.
"Maybe it'll get better, because it was pretty crooked out here for a while with the police force," resident Jonathan Dees said. "And the water bill, the electric bill, everything skyrocketed all the time."
If the city is dissolved during this year's legislative session, the 1 square mile of land would revert to being an unincorporated part of Bradford County and would be served by law enforcement and other services by the county -- something the Sheriff Gordon Smith knows first-hand will be welcomed by the residents.
"I was at a funeral one time and I had a couple of people from that community say, 'Sheriff, you've gotta help us. We can't say anything. If we do, it's kind of like the Gestapo -- we'll get harassed,'" Smith said.
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