Council to continue budget discussion

The Fort Payne City Council met virtually on Tuesday, deciding to continue its budget discussion at a 4 p.m. Wednesday work session to be livestreamed by FPTV.

The Fort Payne City Council met virtually on Tuesday, deciding to continue its budget discussion at a 4 p.m. Wednesday work session to be livestreamed by FPTV.

Tuesday’s council meeting can be viewed at https://player.lightcast.com/zMzM4UjM?fbclid=IwAR3sq6Ytofx3CBnYMB5vduExNh1W4XS_MHYlCfFemZsLEaijGw8vdc8he_I . The Times-Journal will share the link to view the livestreamed work session.

Council President Walter Watson asked whether the Council could pass a budget while continuing to work on two parts of it: proposed cost-of-living pay increases for city employees and appropriations. As part of cutting costs, the Council has also discussed possibly closing some city-owned facilities.

A cost of living raise averages $300,000 a year. This year’s insurance premiums went up 5.5% so for the city to absorb that cost would average $130,000. Those things are in the budget being considered, but Council members want to take another look at them before signing off on it.

Also, there are some departments and individuals in the city whose pay needs to be reviewed. We need to get some departments pay increased to compete with surrounding areas. That is something they want to discuss further. Bottom line there is only so much money and the council has to decide what to do with it.

City Attorney Rocky Watson said this could legally be done, but he recommends against partially adopting a budget because it’s not actually passing one until it is complete.

“You would not fulfill your obligation of ultimately passing a budget for the entire city and cannot let it fall through the cracks,” Attorney Watson said. “It’s going to be very difficult to go back and change something.”

City Clerk Andy Parker said it is impossible for him and City Treasurer Tricia Clinton Dunne to install a partial budget in the city’s accounting software.

“We can still operate as we have been doing since October without a passed budget, but saying you’re passing a partial budget is meaningless terminology from our point of view because you can’t install a piece of a budget,” Parker said.

Council member Phillip Smith, who has worked closely on developing the budget, said there are still major issues the city needs to work out in a work session.

“Specifically with regard to the appropriations,” he said. “Passing part of a budget is passing no budget at all.”

Council member Lynn Brewer said her primary concern is getting a final budget passed soon because department heads urgently need to know what funding they’ll have available before they can plan where to focus resources.

“It’s important that we get it done because they ask ‘Has the budget been passed?’ There’s a good bit of work we can iron out,” she said.

Council member John Smith agreed, saying there’s still confusion and questions needing addressed.

Mayor Brian Baine also stressed the urgency of getting a budget passed.

“We are three months into this fiscal year, so our department heads need that budget,” Baine said.

Council member Watson said the city has budgeted $420,000 for the cost of living hikes and possibly contributing to help pay employee costs for insurance increases. They’re also looking at whether they can do salary increases in 2021.

“We can’t do all of those things,” he said. “We have to pick and choose which ones we are going to do. We knocked the appropriations down from $800,000 to $500,000, but I think there’s some concerns to do some more adjustments to that.”

Clinton-Dunne said this total includes adjustments made to the appropriations and everything discussed at a previous work session.

The 4 p.m. work session will be livestreamed on FPTV.

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