By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen failed this week to override Mayor Terry Jones’ vetoes of the budget and salary ordinances for the 2014 fiscal year.
At Monday night’s regular board meeting, separate motions to override the vetoes failed when they received only four votes. Five votes are required to approve an override.
But the board was able to override Jones’ veto of an ordinance to levy and assess a tax on real and personal property at a rate of $1.53 for each $100 of assessed valuation.
In accordance with the City Charter, the mayor notified City Clerk Lorrie Beth Leach of his vetoes in a letter submitted Monday afternoon, and he distributed copies of it to the board members.
In it, Jones stated that “initial budgetary numbers” provided to the board were not correct, and that changes to revenues and expenditures requested by its members were never implemented. He said it was because of an “abundance of caution” that he considered it in the best interest of the city’s employees and residents to veto the ordinances.
“The importance of properly projecting revenues and adequately justifying expenditures is vital to ensure the financial stability of the city, and to accomplish due diligence that the employees and citizens expect from their elected officials,” the mayor wrote. “Eliminating key public safety jobs after a recent annexation may jeopardize the ability to provide public safety services that were promised to those citizens and is not in the best interest of the city.”
City Attorney Charles Perkins said that, under the present circumstances, Section 9.06 of the Charter provides for “continuation” of the 2013 fiscal year budget.
The ordinances were passed on first reading at the board’s June 3 regular monthly meeting, on second reading at a June 11 special called meeting and on final reading at a special meeting last Thursday night.
Although the budget required the elimination of 19 employee positions, six of those were vacant. They included a lieutenant, three patrol officers and a dispatcher in the Police Department and an office assistant’s clerical position in General Government.
The other 13 positions were occupied. They included one police inspector, the deputy fire chief and the fire marshal in the Fire Department, six positions in the Arts and Recreation Department, three in the Streets Department and one in Economic Development.
City Manager Thomas Christie said that, under the present circumstances, those 13 individuals will probably remain “laid off” until the board can come to “some conclusion” about the budget.
When Alderman Mike Caruthers said he would assume that they would go back to work, Perkins acknowledged that he does not know the answer to that question. He called it a “very complex labor-law issue” that will have to be researched either by him or a labor lawyer.
Christie said the board might have to request an opinion from the Tennessee attorney general.
Recalling that the board had numerous work sessions and examined many numbers, Caruthers wondered whether additional sessions would just produce “something similar.”
But Jones said he is more concerned about the fact that revenues were decreased, and expenditures were increased, to the detriment of the city’s employees.
Caruthers noted that, for the past couple of years, his concern has been getting some “stability and civility” within the city. And although he did not like the budget, he considered it a “reasonable” one.
“I don’t like that we had to raise taxes, let people go and terminate jobs,” he said. “But I felt like we would be better off doing that than spending another month or two months going back to work sessions and arguing numbers again.”
Alderman Thomas McGhee said the board members did not pass the budget to “get rid of anybody.” They did it because the “outlay” was greater than the income, and it is fiscally responsible to “balance the books.”
McGhee said the board tried to do that with different tools, and one of them was to lay off employees. He acknowledged that he did not want anybody to lose his job.
“I wish we could have them all back, but we need more rooftops,” he noted. “We need more people paying into this, and we don’t have that. It’s not fair to the people who are here to do all the heavy lifting.”
Because the budget and salary vetoes were not overridden, Christie said those ordinances failed. And the board must start over again with new ordinances that will require three readings for passage.
When Alderman Bethany Huffman noted that the 2013 fiscal year’s budget is currently $200,000 “into the fund balance,” Christie said it has revenues that are “not real.”
Although the 13 employee layoffs created vacant positions, Christie said with the board’s failure to override the mayor’s vetoes of the budget and salary ordinances, the positions “go back to being there,” but they are not filled.
Although he has seen Shelby County budgets “go over the fiscal year,” Perkins said that was always because the third reading got postponed. He noted that he has never seen anything where the entire two-or-three-reading process has to start over again.
But because the three readings could be scheduled “weekly,” he said the board could potentially have a budget in two to three weeks or a month.
Huffman asked Jones what he recommends that the board change in its first work session to produce a new balanced budget. The mayor said he would look first at the revenues that have been decreased and then at the expenditure cuts that Caruthers has suggested.
Caruthers said those are things that would have been paid for in the Operations Budget. They include additional police cars, some of the training in the Police Department and some of the officers’ ammunition that the city was purchasing.
“There’s a lot of stuff that would be painful to do,” he acknowledged, “but we could do it.”
Alderman Frankie Dakin said Caruthers was suggesting that the board “pick and choose” which employee positions to restore and then just trim the Operations budget.
“That sounds like a worse budget than we have right now,” he said. “I think we’re going to need some more creative solutions than that one.”
In order for Millington to “get out of trouble,” Caruthers said, it must bring in the businesses and change the “attitudes” of the city.
“We’ve got to make the ordinances where they encourage businesses to come in,” he concluded. “They’ll bring other businesses in. Our ticket to the future is the businesses, it’s not property tax.”