Board votes 7-1 to approve budget with 3 amendments
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
At last, the City of Brentwood has a budget for 2016.
After eight weeks of delay, on Monday night the Brentwood Board of Aldermen voted 7-1 to adopt the city’s annual budget for fiscal year 2016. The “no” vote was cast by Alderman Andy Leahy.
The board had rejected the proposed budget in a 4-3 vote on Dec. 21, citing concerns about employee compensation and benefits. Progress toward an agreement seemed to be made at a budget workshop on Jan. 25. At least three aldermen thought it would be back on the agenda on Feb. 1. but Mayor Chris Thornton said he hadn’t received their proposed amendments in writing.
After the final vote was cast on Monday, the 20 or so spectators at the meeting broke out in smiles and applause. Thornton joked that he should sign the bill into ordinance immediately.
“If you could have that in my office for signature right after the meeting,” he said, to laughter.
The board proposed four amendments to the budget and approved three of them. Their changes created a fund dedicated to storm water improvements, allocated more money for street and sidewalk repairs and put a halt to plans for the city to hire a public relations specialist.
Storm water fund
The aldermen unanimously approved Steve Lochmoeller’s motion to move $400,000 from a storm water and parks improvement fund of $894,308 into an assigned fund balance of capital reserve exclusively set aside for storm water.
In prefacing his motion, Lochmoeller said that from 2012 to 2014 the city collected $7 million in storm water and parks sales tax and spent only $66,000 of it on storm water work.
“If we’re ever going to address improvements along Manchester Road we’re going to need to set a plan aside and put investment away to handle what comes up with flooding,” he said.
Said Alderman Keith Slusser, “This is good for this budget, but in the near future we should move to put this $400,000 in a committed fund balance instead of an assigned one. An assigned fund balance is set forth by management and could be moved by management. A committed fund balance is set forth by the board. This would allow us to build up a coffer for storm water improvements.”
Patrick Toohey voted for the measure but cautioned, “I like the intent but we’ve had engineers give us possible solutions to flooding and none have been economically feasible. My concern is we start robbing our park system to put money for reserve for something we don’t even know is possible.”
Street and sidewalk repairs
The aldermen approved Maureen Saunders’s motion to move $122,000 to the capital improvements account, to be used for street and sidewalk repairs. The amount is the difference between the $362,000 that was budgeted to implement a step plan and administer raises and the actual amount of $240,000. The motion passed 6-2 with Leahy and Keith Slusser voting against.
Removing funds for PR position
The board passed Thomas Kramer’s motion to remove $89,800 in funding for what would have been a new full-time public relations position. The public and customer relations manager would have overseen a customer relations clerk, written press releases and performed other public relations tasks. Kramer’s motion passed 5-3, with dissenting votes by David Plufka, Slusser and Patrick Toohey.
Kramer said such PR tasks could be handled by the assistant city administrator and the newly created customer relations clerk.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints about customer service,” said Kramer. “With a customer relations clerk, for substantially less allocation, we can solve a large part of that problem. That clerk can handle the reception duties. Allocating another $89,000 for someone to oversee the clerk and write PR releases and do PR activities is superfluous.”
Kramer later said, “If this amendment does not pass, I cannot in good faith vote for the budget with this position included.”
But Plufka and Slusser argued that City Administrator Bola Akande has a better idea of what personnel is needed to improve customer service.
“I don’t think we’re giving Bola the benefit of the doubt,” said Plufka. “This is an evolving process, trying to improve the efficiency of this city in delivering services. Let’s face it, this is a people business. We are primarily in the function of answering the concerns and demands of the people in this city. I think this does begin to address these problems.”
Pension benefit for aldermen
The board rejected Saunders’s motion to include in the budget the names of the aldermen who choose to receive a pension benefit from the city, as well as the annual amount the city contributes on their behalf. The motion failed 6-2, with Saunders and Cindy Manestar in support.
“The elected officials are there voluntarily,” said Saunders. “I think that since we’re trying to hold the employees’ salaries at the 75th percentile, we should at least first take a look at our own. … I definitely don’t think we should be receiving benefits.”
Said Plufka, “I think the motion has merit. … I think elected officials in a part-time position, I don’t know that it makes any sense logically for the city to have to extend … benefits to us.”
But Slusser, later backed by Kramer, said, “It’s not that critical that we scarlet letter the people that are on an allowable plan.”
Leahy seeks closed session
Before the budget discussion, Leahy asked for the board to go into a closed executive session so he could get answers to legal and personnel questions regarding the budget. City Administrator Bola Akande said that the city’s labor counsel had asked to be present at any such meeting. Leahy then proposed that the budget be moved to the March 7 agenda, a motion that was defeated 6-2, supported by himself and Thomas Kramer.