Time to tend the people’s business

Published 11:24 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

By Mitchell Congress

Demopolis City Councilman

Tomorrow, Nov. 3, the Demopolis City Council will meet for the third time to discuss, and hopefully pass, a budget for 2012.

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The Mayor, each time that we have failed to pass a budget, has stated that the city would continue to operate on the existing budget. But, I wonder how we can continue to operate on the previous year’s budget when we are, as we have been told, in the red.

If there is a deficit, and all of these cost-cutting measures are looming, what are we operating from? If you are out of money or have over-spent, then you have no money to keep operating from.

Are we at a deficit or not? One minute we are not broke (and we are not). The next minute, we need to get $1.4 million from our reserves. The numbers fluctuate every edition of the paper according to who you talk to of course.

For a city to operate on funds from revenues that are generated for the next budget cycle, there must be a budget amendment passed by the council. It is called “emergency funding”, unless there is money left over and this deficit is merely a smoke screen.

The numbers have fluctuated so during this process that even I, a councilmember, don’t know what we have. Of course, I am not on the “Mighty Finance Committee” and I would not know. The mayor refuses to honor my request to have a meeting of the Finance Committee with the entire council.

Why? Because then they would have to answer the questions that the rest of us have. Who is over budget? Why? Who approved the request for purchases that allowed them to go over?

And show us the budget request from every department head, so we can see what was asked and why.

Now, let me be clear, I am neither saying nor implying that anything illegal or unethical is going on with the Finance Committee. It is not.

But there is a lack of transparency for whatever reason.

Political maneuvering is the order of the day as is political postering, in my opinion.

Why do I say that?

It is all about trying to find a way to not honor the commitment and unanimous vote of the all the projects in the bond issue.

That includes fully paving Sunset Road and running the correct piping all the way down Lem Wilson Road instead of the quick-fixes suggested. Don’t forget the repeated attempts to totally annihilate the renovation of Fire Station 2, located on the corner of Cedar and Capital Street – an area that seves the heavily populated east side of Demopolis.

For months we have talked about that project. Chief Few brought in a gentleman fron the USDA who offered us 100 percent funding on a 65/35 basis, meaning we apply for these funds and, if granted, we pay only 65 percent back. We would be given the 35 percent free.

For instance, had we borrowed – as intended or projected – $1,000,000, we would have been given $350,000 dollars and repaid the $650,000.

That would have gotten more for our buck and cost the city less than the amount we passed: $750,000.00.

That proposal was met with a point blank “no” from the mayor. He said if it was not 100 percent with no match, we were not interested. This was during a Building Committee meeting about seven months ago.

I wanted it as a part of a three-member committee comprised of Councilman Bill Meador, Mayor Mike Grayson and myself. No vote was ever taken. The man laid out the payback process and these were federal funds.

Now, let’s apply for a Grant from USDA – the same entity – and see what we get before we spend this kind of money.

Why now?

We will be out of office, or at least our terms will be up. There is an under current to see to it that Melvin Yelverton and I are not re-elected by any means necessary. I am still trying to find the culprits behind that.

I do know that people have been approached and asked to run against us, with a promise that all of their campaign funds would be paid for them. I have no proof of this, just the word of some.

Councilman Jack Cooley is quoted on the front page of the Demopolis Times as saying, “the city is not broke”, and we are not. But why say that in one breath and then others on the council say we will have to get $1.4 million from our reserves to stay afloat.

I expect tonight at the mayor’s town hall meeting the citizens will be assured that all is well and there’s no need to worry and that the ship is not sinking with him at the helm.

I will not vote for a budget that does not include funds from the bond issue that does what our joint motion intended. We will have to go into our reserves and get Regions Bank’s $4.5 million by December 2011 and we will be broke.

I hope that all of us will honor our word and that will not happen. I love Demopolis and I do take our fiduciary responsibility seriously.

After all, this is not our money. But, we have been entrusted by the taxpayers to spend it in their best interest. Let’s stop bickering and be about the people’s business.

Councilman Mitchell Congress