Council again tables revised budget vote

Published 12:54 am Friday, February 20, 2009

The Demopolis City Council again tabled its vote on accepting the revised budget after city departments were asked to reduce their budgets by 15 percent.

That decision was made at the council’s meeting on Thursday.

“The short of it is: we’re not prepared to make a recommendation on an adjusted budget,” said District 1 representative Thomas Moore, speaking of the council’s finance committee. “We do plan to do some more studying and preparation, and be prepared at the next meeting.”

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The next meeting will be held on Thursday, March 5, at noon at Rooster Hall. The meeting was moved from its regular 5:15 p.m. time to accommodate a schedule conflict.

“If there are any new developments, the full council will be advised in the interim,” Moore said.

District 2 representative Mitchell Congress requested a work session so he could see specifically what was cut from each budget.

“My understanding is that some departments are cutting $21,000, some departments are cutting $200,000, some are cutting nothing and some are cutting $5,000,” he said. “It’s not fair for one department to go to the meat grinder and another department does not make the 15 percent of their budget that they were asked to make. …I think every department should be treated the same. If one has to make sacrifices, they should all make sacrifices.”

“We’ve already gotten input from the department heads,” said mayor Mike Grayson. “The council will vote on it as a whole. We don’t need a work session. Once we have the numbers and we’re confident of the numbers, we will proceed along those lines.”

Congress then made a motion for a work session to be held. The vote was 3-3, with Grayson, District 4 representative Bill Meador and District 5 representative Jack Cooley voting against it and Congress, Moore and District 3 representative Melvin Yelverton voting for it. Without a majority vote, the motion did not pass.

Meador said that he agreed with Congress about having the information available, listing the items that were cut from each budget.

“Every single thing that you stated here, we spent more than an hour on today,” Cooley told Congress of the finance committee’s work. “You are not going to be handed a sheet of paper and asked to vote on it. We have a plan, but it just doesn’t need to be disclosed right now publicly. You will be aware of it as well as we are in advance.”

“My concern is that the things that are said in committee, we are not privy to,” Congress said. “And when we get it, we don’t hear the back-and-forth between committee members and the pros and cons of how you came up with your numbers. I’ve looked at my e-mails sent by the mayor to (Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department) Chief (Ronnie) Few and those responses, and I’m concerned that these public safety departments are staffed and that they are given the latitude to manage their departments based on the budget.

“I think every department head should be treated the same, and it is my feeling that at the department head meetings, which I plan to attend, that there are some differences made between department heads, and I am very concerned about that.”

“First of all, that is entirely incorrect,” Grayson said. “Every department head is treated exactly fair in that meeting, and I will challenge you…to talk with every one to see that there is not a sense of fairness.

“No. 2, the reason you were given a budget — as was everybody — two weeks before I asked you to vote was so you could become acclimated and aware of what we’re talking about here so you could make a reasonable decision, unlike under the prior administration. A budget was given in 15 minutes, and you were said to vote. Now, that’s not fair, and that’s why I’m saying we’ve got a system going here that I believe will bring equity and justice to all. There’s not a person at this table that does not share your concern about public safety employees and is not passionate about making sure they are taken care of and are treated fairly.”

Yelverton said he would like to see what each department was giving up. Grayson said he would make sure each council member would get a budget worksheet.

Other actions taken at the Demopolis City Council meeting on Thursday included:

The council tabled a decision for the city to take part in a mutual aid agreement with other entities throughout south Alabama. The agreement said that those entities who were able to send emergency personnel to an emergency situation outside of their jurisdictions would do so and be reimbursed for their actions.

Marengo County Emergency Management Agency director Kevin McKinney, Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department chief Ronnie Few and Reese each spoke to the council in favor of the agreement.

A vote to accept the agreement was voted down 4-2, with Congress and Yelverton voting for it. Those who voted against the agreement did not oppose the agreement itself, but wanted more information concerning the city’s potential liability.

City attorney Richard S. Manley recommended that the council table a decision for the next meeting. Moore then made a motion for the council to take a definitive vote on it at the next meeting, which passed 6-0.

“It’s been going on for three or four years,” Yelverton said.

“I agree with you, Melvin,” Moore said, “but I’d hate to have a vote if I’ve got some questions, particularly with legal issues, and I’m not comfortable with it.”

The council voted 6-0 not to put up a safety light at the east entrance to Wal-Mart on U.S. Highway 80.

Grayson said he spoke with Diane Brooker of Alabama Power Company, and she told him that the company did not like to do “spot” lighting, or putting up one light in one spot.

Grayson said that Alabama Power offered to put up 31 lights along Highway 80 from Demopolis High School to Maria Avenue for a one-time cost of $33,978, plus monthly lighting charge of $682.62, or allow monthly payments of $526.14 for the 31-light system over five years, plus the monthly $682.62 bill.

“We can’t afford it right now,” Congress said. “We’re cutting the budget, and you’re going to add something else to it that is not a necessity at this time. It’s not an accident-prone area.”

City public works director Mike Baker was asked if the city could put a light at that entrance, and he said it would have to be approved by the state. It was also undetermined who owned the property the light pole was on.

The council voted for Travis Burnham of Foster Farms, Woody Collins of Collins Communications and Demopolis Middle School principal Clarence Jackson Jr. to serve on the industrial development board. They will fill the seats formerly held by John Laney, John Wallace and Alvin Williams. A vote was also taken for former mayor Cecil Williamson to serve on that board, and the vote was defeated 3-3. Others considered for the industrial development board but who were not voted on included Gerald Kupcak, Danny Lawrence and Angelia Mance. Before voting, the council decided to accept the first three nominees who received favorable voting.

The council requested that police chief Tommie Reese do a 30-day study on speed limits around town. That decision came after Cooley said that two residents said the 35-miles-per-hour speed limit on Janet Street and Lake Lane was too high. It was pointed out that some streets in town have a 25-mph speed limit, and others are 30 mph.

The council approved amending the city’s building codes to require a combined smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in any new construction within the city. The vote passed 5-1 with Cooley voting against.

Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department chief Ronnie Few said that the codes already required smoke detectors, and the cost to contractors for the combined detectors would be at most $17 for the most elaborate detectors.

City building official Junior Brooker said that the vote would not be the final say, but as an amendment to the building code it would have to be advertised and hearings regarding the change would have to be held.

The council considered change orders for the proposed municipal complex. When construction bids were taken for the municipal complex, a prioritized list of related projects was included for separate bids. The city was required to select any of the lesser projects they wanted, but had to take them in order. For example, if the city wanted construction crews to take project No. 8, it would have to take the top seven projects as well.

On Feb. 5, the city voted to take the top three projects with the construction bid won by Revon Bigham of Tuscaloosa — which included an electric garage door opener, an operable wall partition for a multi-use room and a generator for the computer server and dispatch — and decided to add other projects through change orders, aiming to keep the total cost of the municipal complex project under $1.7 million.

The city was given 30 days after accepting the low bid to determine which projects it would want. Revon Bigham gave the city 15 more days to decide, making the deadline March 13. The council decided to allow police chief Tommie Reese and municipal court clerk Karen Broadhead to decide which projects they would want the complex to have and bring them to the March 5 meeting.

Yelverton asked about progress for Sunset Road. Grayson said that the city was still gathering information, but was pleased that the city was able to respond quickly after the Feb. 5 meeting and get crushed asphalt to the road to improve it. Grayson also said that a police patrol was also made available at the French Creek neighborhood.

Yelverton also asked about taking bids to mow the grass at the city cemeteries, since the cemetery board had no money, saying the board paid $12,000 last year to have it done. The council found that the cemetery board had $18,000 in its budget. Yelverton said he would get more information on the matter.

He asked if the police would be able to close the cemetery gates at night and open them again in the morning. Reese said that used to be done, and would see to it that it was done now.

Yelverton also asked for a lawn mower at the airport, saying the bushhog broke lights there. Baker said he would look into it.

Congress made recommendations to be named to the city beautification committee. Grayson asked that a vote be taken at the March 5 meeting.

Congress also asked about striping Rainbow Circle, saying it was a safety issue. He said that Ozark Striping Company Inc. would be in Uniontown this week and that company president Leon Gross III said he would be willing to come to Demopolis and do the work for $1,250.

“My concern is: If we stripe Rainbow, why shouldn’t we stripe Hilltop?” Grayson asked.

“Because it’s one-way,” Congress said.

“Why is it a problem?” Grayson asked.

“This is a problem of the curves on Rainbow Circle,” Congress said. “West Alabama buses go through there every morning and pick children up. There are a lot of children on Rainbow Circle, and it’s a safety issue. Parents up there are concerned, and the people who live there are concerned that, when you go around the curve, you cannot see because there is parking on both sides. If they could see a line, you would know where you were.”

“I drove around there at 15 miles an hour and didn’t have a problem all the way around,” Cooley said. “I’ll tell you what poses the biggest hazard is kids running out in the street from between those vehicles that are parked on both sides. Tell me what street in the city would be less of a safety issue if it were striped? Where do we draw the line?”

Yelverton asked Baker if the city still had a striper, and Baker said the city has one, but he wouldn’t want to use it, since it is a manually operated machine, and it would not look very good.

Grayson asked about assigning a police officer on the street, and Congress said that would be a waste of the officer’s time to sit there and direct traffic.

Congress then made a motion to have Ozark Paving stripe Rainbow Circle. The vote was defeated 3-3, with Congress, Moore and Yelverton voting for it and Grayson, Cooley and Meador voting against.