City keeps 2 cops, 1 firefighter, 1 projects mgr.

Building on a formula proposed by Henderson City Council member Garry Daeke, the council reached consensus on a budget plan to retain one of two firefighter positions, one half of a special projects manager, and two police officer positions.

The city anticipates that the other half of the special projects manager’s salary will be paid by the Embassy Foundation.

Those positions as well as other budget items were originally on the block due to a reported accounting error which found over $300,000 of drug forfeiture seizure assets lumped in with the unrestricted general fund balance.

Under the plan, the following items will be eliminated from the budget: $50,000 for an assistant finance director, $60,000 for the first year of the new Economic Development Commission, and $32,500 for the first installment payment to the county for the new City Hall building.

Vance County Board of Commissioners Chair Dan Brummitt and County Manager Jerry Ayscue yesterday offered to let the city off of the hook for the $60,000 and $32,500 payment for fiscal 2010. Payments would resume in fiscal 2011. That offer must be approved by a vote of the full Board of Commissioners. It is anticipated that the commissioners will consider it during their regular June 1 meeting.

Other cuts include a code inspector at $42,000, $15,000 removed from an abandoned housing demolition budget of $40,000, $20,000 from a contract with Work Solutions for downtown maintenance, $3,000 for lawn service at City Hall, $5,000 for PPV drive fans for the fire department, $1,380 for membership to the National League of Cities, $17,000 reduction in travel and training, $2,000 diagnostic scan tool for the city garage.

A number of council members expressed regret at the cancellation of the Work Solutions contract, as it employees a number of disabled citizens who would not otherwise be able to work productively. However, members anticipated that the organization would have other contracts to fulfill, softening the blow.

As the council discussed the two vacant firefighter positions, a moment of tension rose between Council member Mary Emma Evans and Henderson Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson. In considered whether to retain the positions, Evans remarked that “it seems like [firefighters] are doing a pretty good job. I’d say we could eliminate both.”

A few minutes later, Wilkerson told Evans that he did not appreciate her comment, and that two less people is not a good thing.

Wilkerson also pointed out that the police department has double the staff of the fire department, yet it protects the same number of citizens in the same area. He told Evans that his “back is against the wall to maintain standards,” and that he just wants to “maintain what we’ve got”.

Evans retorted that she thinks she has done enough for city employees for [one] not to be able to say that she does not appreciate them.

The council also agreed to increase Recreation Department fees by $10,000, to transfer $12,000 from the police retirement fund to the general fund, refinance the Recreation Complex and the Henderson Police Department facilities for a savings of $16,200, and a $58,000 “negative appropriate” for salary.

It was not immediately apparent which Recreation Department fees would be increased. City Manager Ray Griffin said that he was waiting on a response from the affected department.

The negative appropriation means that the city will purposefully delay filling funded positions that become vacant.

Near the end of the discussion, Evans remarked to members that “we made mistakes” that cost money. She made reference to the firing of former City Manager Eric Williams and the contract with former City Attorney Billy Strickland as examples of mistakes which had cost the city money.

Williams was paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit. Strickland was paid six months’ salary as part of a clause in his contract which guaranteed him the payment should he quit or be fired within his first year of employment.

Evans was a member of the council during those actions and voted for the firing of Williams and the approval of Strickland’s contract.

She then asked Griffin if there is more Alcohol Board of Control (ABC) money to be had. Griffin replied that there is an opportunity to renegotiate the allocation formula, but remarked that it has been in place for a long time.

The latest budget machinations will produce a surplus of $5,150 which will be placed in the unrestricted fund.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for June 1, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. There will be subsequent meetings on June 2 and June 4, 2009, if deemed necessary by the council.