The Fort Payne City Council passed a budget for the year on Jan. 19, 2021. It was live-streamed on FPTV and can be viewed above.
According to City Treasurer Tricia Clinton-Dunne, the budget projects $27,071,600 million in revenue and $27,032,136 in expenses with a bottom line surplus of $39,464. They started the fiscal year with a $926,000 deficit to overcome. Department heads can now plan where to dedicate resources while city employees can count on a step raise in pay.
The Council also voted to seek an appraisal on the value of DeSoto Golf Course ahead of possibly selling it. Mayor Brian Baine said DeSoto won’t close immediately but this begins that phased process. The city will help anyone who has booked an event there to find an alternative venue.
The DeKalb Theatre and Coal & Iron Building will only be opened as needed for special events rather than staffed daily by city employees. Special Events & Venues Manager Maurey Roberts, the chairman of the annual Boom Days festival, shared on Facebook that he was one of the employees the city let go.
Council member Johnny Eberhart, returning for his first regular meeting since recovering from COVID-19, made the motion to accept the budget, urging department heads to eliminate all non-essential spending. The budget included a cut he proposed of $55,000 for a new pump for the city pool, comparing it to “putting a new motor in my car because it may blow up. It could blow up in two weeks or last another five years. If it does, we’ll just have to deal with it when it does.”
Council member Phillip Smith was the only one to vote no “for the simple fact that we are spending more money than we are making. We haven’t addressed the inequity in the fire department’s starting pay, and I think [buying] fire trucks should be part of the normal operating business. We shouldn’t take money out of savings or the bond fund.”
Council President Walter Watson said he appreciated Smith’s opinion and everybody’s participation in a tough process, including City Clerk Andy Parker and Clinton-Dunne.
“Phillip’s spreadsheet really got the conversation started,” Watson said. “We have work left to do. We allotted $430,000 for this employee package. That’s a lot, and if we do that every year, we could find ourselves in a pickle if we aren’t careful.”
Baine said the council needs to address issues in funding the operations of the fire, street and sanitation departments in the next budget. “Those talks will be happening ASAP so we can get them where they need to be in the next fiscal year,” he said. Watson said the next budget process will start in July and be done “no later than Oct. 15.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Council also gave first reading to a proposed ordinance to increase sewer and sanitation rates by 3% annually. Council member John Smith voiced concerns about making the hikes recurring rather than linking future increases to the rate of inflation.
“I’m not in favor of a blank check every year with no end in sight,” Smith said. “Maybe we can revisit this every year.”
Other Council members said they preferred to make the rate increases automatic since it would take eight years of annual 3% adjustments to match the $18.40 that county residents pay on average for a similar service and the average resident would would only see a modest increase on the monthly bill.
“[Making it automatic] would take the burden off of the Council to not have to revisit it every year,” said Council President Pro Tem Lynn Brewer. “Can we do it for five years and visit it again then? We can rescind it at any time.”
The Council will vote on whether to pass the rate increases at the next regular meeting on Feb. 2.