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Budget second reading postponed for 24 hours

By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted this week to postpone its second reading of the 2014 fiscal year budget and salary ordinances for 24 hours.
Board members took the action Monday afternoon during a special called meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Mike Caruthers and seconded by Alderman Thomas McGhee. The motion was passed by five affirmative votes, with Aldermen Hank Hawkins and Bethany Huffman absent.
The board agreed to use the deferred second reading to vote on each line item in the budget and salary ordinances.
During the portion of Monday’s meeting designated for public comments, Rhonda O’Dell of 4265 Autumn Sun Road said she is in “adamant disagreement” with the proposal to increase the city’s property tax rate by 40 cents.
O’Dell recalled that, in 28 days last year, the previous board changed Millington’s Charter to a city manager form of government. She said those board members believed that a professional city manager would be able to provide a “better path” to save money, streamline and be more productive.
While noting that the current board hired City Manager Thomas Christie to “do a job,” she said his solution is to increase the property tax rate and “put this burden on the taxpayers.”
O’Dell said she would “love” to give the board suggestions on ways to save the city money. But she contended that she cannot get a copy of the budget from the city’s Web site.
Declaring that authority can be delegated, but responsibility cannot, O’Dell said that falls directly on the city manager.
“I’m holding each and every one of you accountable for how he runs my city,” she told the board members. “And right now, I’m not very happy.”
O’Dell contended that, through attrition, streamlining some procedures, departments and positions, money can be saved in the city.
“I don’t understand how, all of a sudden, we have this huge tax burden coming down on the citizens,” she said. “And we, as the citizens, can’t even see what’s going on financially? This is uncalled for.”
Agreeing with O’Dell, Caruthers said that, like last year, the budget is being “shoved down our throats,” which he does not appreciate “one bit.”
He contended that, by the time of the second reading, the budget should be a “finalized document.” That way, the public has an opportunity to see it before the final reading.
“We normally have a public hearing at the third reading,” he acknowledged. “That gives you 10 minutes to digest the comments. That’s not appropriate. That’s not transparency.”
Noting that he spent a lot of time last weekend reviewing the budget, Caruthers said there are places that can be cut, changed and streamlined.
“We don’t have to have this massive tax increase that Ms. O’Dell mentioned,” he concluded. “There will be some tax increase, but nothing like that.”
City Finance Director John Trusty said he delivered the budget documents to the board members Friday afternoon. And on Saturday, he came to City Hall, where he scanned all the documents and uploaded them to the city’s Web site.
“They are under ‘Finance’ and under ‘Budgets,’” he said, “which is where we had them last year.”
Christie said he had not been able to get a “clear consensus” from the board regarding which budget items are “acceptable” and which are not. So, he recommended a special called meeting, during which each “controversial” item would be voted on separately.
“That’s fine with me,” Caruthers said. “But once we do that, we still need to post it, so the public gets a chance to see what we voted on.”
City Attorney Charles Perkins said the board could actually continue Monday’s meeting on the next afternoon and would not have to “re-advertise” it.
“You wouldn’t adjourn this meeting,” he noted. “You would just continue it until tomorrow, which will be a deferred meeting.”
Caruthers said the board just needs to go through the budget “item-by-item” and decide what it is going to do. And because there is under-estimated revenue and some expenses that need to be clarified, he said Christie can “put the numbers together” and determine what the tax rate needs to be.
Perkins said the board really does not have to set the tax rate by June 30. It can actually do that during the “first week or two” in July.
“I don’t necessarily recommend that,” he acknowledged. “But if you’re in a bind, you can always do that.”
Christie said he and Trusty had prepared six “formal” budgets and two other drafts, because the board had not yet “come to agreement” on which form it wanted. He said they had versions that listed everything from 36 position eliminations down to the current form, which lists 19.
“And I can guarantee you that you all are not in consensus with those yet,” he concluded. “So, we’re going to have to reach a point where we decide, and I don’t expect it to be unanimous.”

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