The city of Fairhope is already several months in to Fiscal Year 2018, but has yet to pass a budget - a point Mayor Karin Wilson continually mentioned during a special called Fairhope City Council …
The city of Fairhope is already several months in to Fiscal Year 2018, but has yet to pass a budget - a point Mayor Karin Wilson continually mentioned during a special called Fairhope City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
“We’re three months in on this,” Wilson said. “There needs to be a sense of urgency to take care of this budget.”
Wilson urged the council members to act quickly in passing her proposed budget.
“This is probably one of the most important parts of your job,” Wilson told the council members. “You can’t sit on your hands. We’re the last municipality in this county to pass our budget. It’s not fair to the city employees and the people who lose are the citizens.”
Wilson highlighted many of the changes in her budget that she said would save the city money in the long run, including creating an in-house city attorney position. With benefits, Wilson estimates the position would cost the city $110,222 per year.
“Because they would be full-time, you would not need as much help from outside counsel,” Wilson said. “There’s no question that the city would save a ton of money. We’re estimating around $90,000 per year.”
Wilson also advocated using some of the city’s cash reserves to address capital improvement needs throughout the city.
“Overall, we’re in a very healthy position financially,” Wilson said. “We’re probable sitting on too much cash. Even when we take the cash reserves to pay for these purchases, it’s not going to reduce these reserves.”
Wilson also stressed the need to increase the number of city employees, but told the council she was sure the increase in positions would eventually save the city money. Wilson said the number of city employees had decreased by four percent in seven years while the city’s population had increased by 27 percent.
“We have to grow with our city,” Wilson said. “I feel by adding these people, you are reducing expenses in a lot of cases, with things like overtime and inefficiencies.”
Several council members had a number of questions for Wilson and her budget numbers, especially with regards to potential spending increases.
“Expenses are jumping $3.6 million from last year to this year, just for the city,” Councilman Jimmy Conyers said. “That’s a cause for concern.”
Confers said he would like to see additional cuts to the budget.
Wilson called the increases a part of her “strategic budget” and said any cuts could upend the strategy behind it.
“You aren’t cutting an expense,” Wilson said. “You can’t cut another million and save a million. This is a strategic budget. We’re investing in things that are going to save us money.”
Councilman Jay Robinson, who led the meeting in the absence of Council President Jack Burrell, said the proposed budget still needed further review, especially with the substantial expense increases.
“It does require a leap of faith to approve the expense with the faith of what savings may come,” Robinson said. “Expected revenue is going down by $200,000 but projected expenses are going up $4 million - it’s a hard pill to swallow for me just looking at these numbers.”
During an interview with Lori DuBose on WABF 1480 AM in the days after the meeting, Burrell said he also had some major concerns with the proposed budget.
“I’d like to see additional cuts of about $2.5 million to $3 million,” Burrell said. “I do recognize the city has a lot of needs, but we want to be fiscally conservative.”