Thursday, October 05, 2006

McGee Cancels Council Budget Session

Six City Council members showed up at City Hall Wednesday night for their first 2007 budget session, unaware that City Administrator Carlton McGee had canceled the meeting earlier in the afternoon.

As council members arrived, the Board of Adjustment was set up to meet in City Hall Library and applicants and their experts were crowding the rotunda. Both meetings were set for 7 p.m. and discussions of how to proceed delayed them for nearly half an hour.

One issue was that only the council president, currently Rayland Van Blake, had the authority to cancel meetings. Van Blake said he was told that McGee and Finance Committee Chairman Rashid Burney had canceled the meeting because the scheduled department head, Jennifer Wenson Maier, could not attend. But Burney told Plaintalker by phone later that he did not cancel the meeting and he knew that only the council president could do so. Burney did not attend the budget meeting.

Finally, the board began its proceedings in the library while the council members went to a small meeting room on the second floor to begin talks on the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The administration gave the council a proposed budget last month that reflected an 8.2 percent increase in municipal taxes. Absent the expected department head to discuss specific costs, the council members talked about general aims for the budget process.

The discussion was overshadowed by McGee’s comments Tuesday that the administration had no way to document monthly expenses, due largely to software issues that prevent receiving a comprehensive overview of various departments.

At the budget meeting, council members disputed the inability to produce monthly expense reports while also acknowledging that departments do not share information due to separate computer systems.

Van Blake and Councilman Don Davis initially advocated hiring a council budget consultant, but Councilman Harold Gibson said hiring a consultant would take time and cost money that the city could ill afford.

In past years, the council has had its own budget adviser to provide an objective view of the process.

In the end, the council decided to ask its Finance Committee to frame questions for the administration on budget issues with an aim to get the projected tax increase down to about 3 percent.

Gibson said the budget should be examined for job vacancies, but Councilwoman Linda Carter advocated a hiring freeze until the budget was settled. Gibson also said the council needed to know terms of negotiated contracts, to see what impact settlements would have on the budget.
Last year, the council began budget talks in June, continuing through the summer, Carter said. But following the November general election, the council decided to hold off on a budget decision until after the new administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took hold on Jan. 1. The budget passed on Jan. 30 with about a 3 percent increase.

The administration gave the council its proposed budget on Sept. 5 and the council introduced it Sept. 7. A hearing on the introduced budget is scheduled for Oct. 18. As introduced, the budget reflects a municipal tax increase of $305.10 on an average home assessed at $113,000.

The next council budget session is from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 17 in City Hall Library and another is set for Oct. 31.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home