By Dave Freneaux
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Mac Watts proposed a 2012-2013 budget for the City of Central with a 1.3 million dollar surplus. This puts Central’s projected General Fund surplus since becoming a city at 7.4 million dollars. In addition, the Franchise Fees collected from utility companies is projected to increase this next year by 1.29 million dollars and have a balance of 5.9 million dollars by June of 2013. THAT IS… Good News for a Great City.
In spite of that good news, Central’s City Council still managed to battle over the budget for legal fees, ending in a 3-2 vote to intentionally under-fund the city’s legal fees budget for the year. Council Member Washington led the effort to cut budgeted legal expenses from $110,000 down to $35,000, admitting that the reduced budget was only intended to fund Central’s legal expenses for about two months. Council Members Messina and LoBue supported Washington’s amendment.
Council Member Washington praised the work of Central’s City Attorney Sheri Morris, but insisted on under-funding the legal service budget while taking the next 60 days to “look at possibility of making some changes.” Washington gave no overall plan as to what changes could be made. Council Member LoBue commended City Attorney Sheri Morris for “getting us where we are today,” but explained that if the Council approves the money in this budget “it would go to the executive side (the Mayor) and no matter if you more or less have the money there if you need spent the way the executive branch deems possible. At this moment we have a opportunity, the legislative side has a opportunity to change that line item, and by changing the line item it will come forth to for us to be able to make this more efficient for the legal services.” (sic)
Council Member Messina, responding as to what the Legal Services budget should be for the year, stated, “We won’t know that until we meet and discuss it.” Council Member DeJohn reminded the Council that they received the proposed budget on May 11th and held a public workshop on May 14th to discuss the budget. At that workshop the concept of slashing the Legal Services budget was not discussed. Mr. DeJohn pointed out that 36 days later, with no intervening workshop, there should not now be a last minute move to drastically change the legal services budget.
Council Members DeJohn and Moak each requested that the legal services budget be approved as presented. They pointed out that the $30,000 amount is unrealistically low and reminded the Council that if actual cost savings are found after further study, the budget can be amended at that time. The amendment to under-fund legal services passed by a vote of 3-2 with Messina, Washington and LoBue voting in favor. The budget as a whole passed by a vote of 4-1, with Council Member DeJohn voting against it solely on the basis that legal services were not properly funded.