Council holds budget, bond discussion

Published 8:59 am Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Demopolis city council met for more than an hour Wednesday night to hammer out details and questions surrounding the city’s budget and pending bond issue.

After nearly 70 minutes of discussion, a consensus was far from clear.

One of the primary reasons for calling the meeting was to seek council input on expense cuts in the proposed 2011-2012 budget; a budget that calls for more than $400,000 to be pulled from city reserves.

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Councilman Melvin Yelverton suggested reducing the expense of water project on Lem Wilson Road by nearly $100,000 by partnering with the city water board. He supported the recommendation that the council and mayor trim their travel budgets by a collective $10,000 and was also for eliminating a $125,000 annual payment to Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

Yelverton blasted hospital administration for what he perceived as a scare tactic to get the funding they’ve come to rely on.

“I’ve got people calling me saying that the hospital was going to layoff employees if they don’t get this money,” he said.

The remaining council members said they, too, have received calls asking they continue the annual payment but none referenced jobs being in danger.

Mayor Mike Grayson, in addition to supporting other cuts, recommended leveling the travel expenses for the police and fire departments to $10,000 each – a collective savings of $12,000.

Grayson was supportive of Bill Meador’s recommendation that $140,000 in paving be postponed and that the water department tackle all of the Lem Wilson water project.

Paving Sunset Road, which is expected to top $280,000, could be done for approximately $60,000 under the terms of an understanding the council and residents previously reached with a “tar and gravel job,” Grayson said.

However, Grayson was not supportive of eliminating the hospital payment.

Councilman Thomas Moore supported reducing mayor and council travel expenses and removing $140,000 in paving. He further recommended funding Sunset Road paving with gas tax funds and letting the water department handle the Lem Wilson water project.

Moore also recommended the city eliminate the $125,0000 hospital payment, which brought his projected cuts to nearly $225,000. However, Moore said cutting off the payment was not a high priority item.

“I’m okay with leaving that in there as long as it’s justified,” he said. “I’m not going to go to war over that. (The council was) looking for ways to cut expenses and that was just one of the ways I found.”

Moore further recommended the city enter into a $5.2 million bond to service an existing debt and included $750,000 for Fire Station No. 2 renovations.

In previous meetings, Councilmen Meador and Cooley, along with Mayor Grayson, have expressed a desire to wait on fire station renovations given the economic climate. Councilmen Moore, Yelverton and Congress have supported including it in an upcoming bond.

Councilman Mitchell Congress was opposed to eliminating the hospital payment and reducing the mayor and council travel expenses.

Congress said the expense cuts he would support were those from departments who drove the budget deficit this year.

He was not in favor of altering the Sunset Road project.

The council will meet in regular session tonight at 5:15 p.m. at Rooster Hall to further discuss the budget and pending bond issue.