FAIR Committee meets, reviews budget

*Note: Links to budget pages are two pages per link.

Before the budgetary meeting began, the committee moved to go into closed session once again, presumably over the same personnel matter for which it had been going into closed session for the past two meetings.

A closed session completely pre-empted Thursday’s budget meeting.

All members of the city council were present except for Bernard Alston. Henderson Mayor Clem Seifert arrived during the closed session, and council member Garry Daeke arrived somewhat later.

As promised, the committee emerged from the closed session quickly, and the FAIR Committee chair Lynn Harper began by outlining the process by which the members would review the budget.

It was decided that members would go over the document page by page, spending no more than ten minutes discussing any items on a particular page. Should discussion exceed ten minutes, it was decided that an asterisk would be placed by that item and that members would return to it later.

The rationale behind the approach was that some matters would clarify themselves as the committee proceeded in reviewing the budget.

FAIR Committee member Ranger Wilkerson was particularly anxious to talk about personnel issues. Harper assured him that there would be several places in the budget to discuss the matter.

There were no questions regarding Page i.

On Page ii of the budget, City Manager Jerry Moss told the committee that he wished to add sewer plant renovation to the section of the introduction memo entitled “Budget/Community Challenges”. He told the committee that if a big water user came in that he was not sure if the plant could handle it.

“It could stymie the city’s growth,” he told the council.

There were no questions regarding Page iii. On Page iv, which dealt with personnel recommendations, council member Elissa Yount asked if an office assistant position for the police department could be paid for with drug seizure money.

Seifert responded that the money could not be used to replace existing positions.

Council member Lonnie Davis asked if the council had agreed to eliminate the two School Resource Officer positions, which the draft of the budget currently calls for.

Moss stated that he had spoken to Jerry Stainback who had stated that the Vance County Board of Education was considering giving money to the county to hire deputies.

Council member Mary Emma Evans stated that she was not clear on the situation regarding the SROs. She asked if the manager’s recommendation was what the council was going to do.

Moss reiterated that eliminating the SROs was his recommendation.

Seifert reminded members that the positions are reimbursed by the school board. Moss responded that the city loses $30,000.

Seifert asked how the situation “got out of whack” by $15,000 per officer.

Moss responded that of the $97,000 the two positions cost that he assumes that one-third is knocked off because school is in session nine out of twelve months.

Harper reminded the committee that the SROs are a liability issue.

Moss expanded on Harper’s remark, indicating that the SRO issue is the same type of issue as moonlighting, presumably meaning police working off-duty security. He told the committee that if we [the police] were to hurt a student in school, the city would pay for it, not the school system.

Moss indicated that County Manager Jerry Ayscue has stated that the county would not provide SROs unless the school system paid for a full twelve months.

The committee agreed to vote on the matter during the next meeting.

Also on Page iv, council member Garry Daeke objected to the hiring of a finance assistance before a finance director. Moss explained that he needed the help and could not find a finance director to hire first.

Reviewing Page v, the committee agreed to give each employee a $100 Christmas bonus. It was decided to include the bonus in paychecks rather than the usual gift certificate because participating businesses were tardy in turning reimbursement requests. Harper noted that this put the budget $8,000 in the red.

Seifert noted faceciously that that is what the budget process does.

There were no comments or questions on Page vi.

On Page vii, FAIR Committee member Ranger Wilkerson voiced a strong objection to the purchase of a telephone system capable of routing calls without an operator. After a great deal of discussion, it was decided to purchase the telephone system and have Moss manage personnel so that the telephone was not left without a human operator.

It was also noted on Page vii that Regional Water System rates went up because of the water storage contract enacted earlier this year with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Evans asked if the $12 water bill late fee was also required. Moss responded that if the late fee were reduced, rates would have to be raised. He also said that the late fee produces a “considerable” amount of money. Moss further stated that most creditors produce a late fee if they are not paid on time.

Evans responded that the city is making money off of poor people.

Moss rejoined that there are people in West Henderson who don’t pay on time.

Evans argued that people on fixed incomes do not get their check in time to avoid the late fee.

Moss responded that as soon as service is terminated, customers have the money.

“They have the money,” Moss stated. “They just don’t want to give it to you.”

On Page viii, Wilkerson said that the page should be looked at a little longer. He expressed concern about having an engineer on the city payroll. He stated that the city had had two or three “idiots”. Wilkerson was also worried about expenditures that would go with the engineer, such as a car and a secretary.

Yount responded that $300,000 had been spent on consultants. She hoped a city engineer could sell the city “on not doing things”.

Apparently, the city spent $1,000,000 on plans it has not used.

Wilkerson, complaining that the budget review process was moving too fast, noted that in six years that the city payroll had increased by 50 positions.

“Do we need all of these people?” Wilkerson asked.

Yount responded that she felt that way about the consultants. She said that they had charged $200-300 per hour and that someone on staff could have done their job more cheaply.

Moss stated that past engineers had hired contractors and done work without the knowledge of the city council. He said there had been two that had not worked out.

Harper interjected that it did not make sense to be in the business of selling water without a staff member who did not know anything about it. She said she did not know of another city that was in the business of wholesaling water without a professional engineer on staff.

Yount said that she thought the position would be cost-saving or she would not have proposed it.

There were not comments on Page ix.

As for Page x, Assistant City Manager Mark Warren indicated to Davis that the city was in the process of getting prices for littering signs to be placed around the city. The council also discussed the need to improve home ownership in Henderson, but did not venture any ideas for making that happen.

The FAIR Committee planned to meet at the following dates and times to discuss the budget further:

5/23 4:00 p.m.

5/24 12:00 p.m. (tentative) or 4:00 p.m.

5/25 12:00 p.m.

5/26 12:00 p.m.