By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen has scheduled a public hearing and final reading of the budget, salary and tax ordinances during a special called meeting at 6 p.m. today.
The ordinances were passed on first reading at the board’s June 3 regular monthly meeting and on second reading at a June 11 special called meeting.
At the first reading, the budget ordinance was passed by six affirmative votes, with Alderman Chris Ford the lone dissenter. But the salary and tax ordinances were each passed unanimously.
At the second reading, the budget and tax ordinances were each passed by five affirmative votes, with Ford and Alderman Mike Caruthers dissenting, and Alderman Hank Hawkins absent. But the salary ordinance was passed without dissent.
Thus far, the board has voted to eliminate 18 employee positions and increase the certified property tax rate by 35.5 cents, which would total approximately $1.70 for each $100 of assessed valuation.
The budget ordinance originally proposed the elimination of 19 employee positions. Those included the two inspectors in the Police Department, as well as three patrol officers and a dispatcher position that are currently vacant.
But at the June 11 meeting, a motion offered by Ford and seconded by Caruthers to restore one inspector and eliminate a vacant lieutenant position was passed unanimously.
The budget ordinance also proposes eliminating the deputy fire chief and the fire marshal in the Fire Department, six positions in the Arts and Recreation Department and three in the Streets Department.
A motion offered by Ford to keep the deputy fire chief and fire marshal positions died for lack of a second.
In other action, a motion offered by Alderman Larry Dagen and seconded by Alderman Frankie Dakin to rescind the 3- and 5-percent across-the-board salary increases approved during the 2013 fiscal year was defeated.
But the board did vote to rescind the “adjustments” made to selected employees’ salaries that did not follow board policy. Ford was the lone dissenter.
During a discussion of revenues and expenditures at the June 11 meeting, Caruthers said there are “several instances” where City Finance Director John Trusty proposed less revenue for the 2014 fiscal year than the city expects to generate this year.
As an example, the alderman cited a $36,980 difference in Intergovernmental Revenue. Trusty said that difference is due to the loss of fire fees that were paid by Lucy residents before the community was annexed into the city.
Mayor Terry Jones said that, under Storm Water Fund Revenues, the city went from $679,696 in the 2012 fiscal year to a projected $223,789 this year. Trusty said the city received a grant for almost $430,000 in 2012 that was added into the fund.
Caruthers said that, until Millington gets the issues resolved with the Big Creek flooding from Tipton County, the city needs to diligently keep its storm drains clean. He wondered how that can be done when the proposed budget eliminates an equipment operator and a crew worker.
City Manager Thomas Christie said those positions were targeted for elimination, because the Streets Department has a “direct negative effect” on the General Fund. He said the city is currently transferring more than $400,000 from the General Fund, just so the Streets Department can operate.
Christie said requests for proposals have been distributed regarding the possibility of privatizing both commercial and residential in the Sanitation Department.
“I feel strongly that we will probably never be able to privatize yard waste pickup,” he noted. “That includes the loose leaves or the material that’s generally picked up by the boom truck.”
If Sanitation is privatized, Christie said he hopes the city will be able to “cross-utilize” the employees not currently engaged full-time with the boom truck operations to back up the Streets Department for drainage, as well as regular street maintenance.
Billy Ragghianti, a manager in the Streets Department, told the board members that it spends 30 to 35 percent of its time cleaning out ditches and storm water drains. When Caruthers asked how the loss of a heavy equipment operator and two crew workers will impact the department, Ragghianti said it will also affect the Sanitation and Fire departments, as well as the Industrial Development Board.
Although his equipment is “getting worn out,” Ragghianti said he removed the proposals for new equipment from his department’s budget.
“We’re borrowing equipment from Tipton County, trying to keep the roadsides up,” he noted. “And when I can run the asphalt, I run it. I’m just rotating.”
Regarding the traffic camera fines, Caruthers said Trusty has projected $140,000 in revenue for the current fiscal year, but has proposed only $100,000 for next year. Trusty said that revenue has been constantly trending “downward” since the cameras were installed.
He said the cameras generated $230,596 during the first year and $204,553 the following year. Thus far this year, the total is $130,000.
“I just hate for us to assume that it’s going to go down $40,000,” Caruthers said. “If it stays the same again, that’s a couple of pennies of the tax rate.”
But Christie said if that revenue is decreasing by $30,000, it must be assumed that the trend will continue.
Regarding proposed expenditures, Caruthers noted that all the city departments show a decrease except General Government. It increased from $729,765 to $852,909.
Trusty said a “very small part” of the increase is $12,000 for the part-time janitorial position. And Christie cited an increase in retirement and retiree insurance.
He said retirement is forecast at about $7,000, with an additional $7,000 for retiree insurance. But he noted that the largest expense is Legal and Professional, which will increase from $95,000 to $130,000.
Caruthers asked City Attorney Charles Perkins if the board could do a “fixed contract” with him, so it will know exactly what its legal fees will be for the entire year.
“We can,” Perkins replied. “It depends on how much work is involved. So many of your ordinances have not been updated in a number of years.”
He said the fee he charges Millington – $150 an hour – is “substantially less” than what he charges other clients. And he noted that he has “done a lot of work” for the city.
“You’ve got a lot of serious issues that have to be addressed,” Perkins concluded. “I’ll certainly do my best to hold it down, but I can’t predict what will come up in the future.”