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Board holds firm on budget plan

Aldermen once again sparred over including themselves in a citywide pay raise, but no further revisions to the next fiscal year’s budget were ordered at a Thursday evening work session.

     Aldermen reviewed final copies of the projected 2012-13 budget ahead of a public budget hearing Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the city boardroom.

     That budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for all city employees, including aldermen, and an additional $1.50 tacked on to the total bill for water, sewer and trash collection.

     The majority of aldermen seem in favor of including aldermen in the pay raise, though a vocal minority continues to insist the aldermen pay hikes be approved in a separate vote when the time comes so dissenting aldermen may vote against them.

     “The public perception is important,” said Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes, explaining her opposition to including aldermen in the pay raises.

     “It makes very little difference the actual amount,” she added, responding to previous remarks by Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell that aldermen raises would only cost approximately $2,300.

     “Y’all are the only people in the world that can give yourself a raise,” said Mayor Les Bumgarner, wading into the discussion.

     Maxwell retorted that lawmakers at all levels of government must eventually vote to implement raises for their office.

     “Does the public expect a legislative body to never receive a cost of living adjustment?” asked Maxwell.

     He added that aldermen continue to pay for much of the cost of their office, including gasoline for travel and phone bills.

     There was mention of holding a straw vote on the question of voting on employee raises and aldermen raises as separate matters, but that did not materialize.

     Though there was no substantial discussion of any other line items in the budget, Estes again questioned Bumgarner about the extent of overtime pay some city employees receive. The mayor repeated remarks from a previous work session that he’s investigated and believes all overtime is being fairly earned.

     “I just don’t think there’s any waste out there,” Bumgarner said.

     Aldermen also spent some time discussing the possibility that the costs of building permits and inspection fees should be raised. However, aldermen did not have access to the current fees.

     Jinks and Bumgarner both explained to the board the fees could be raised any time, with the only impact on the budget being an increase the expected revenue in the Building Inspector’s Department.

     “This has nothing to do with the budget,” said the mayor, nudging the conversation into another direction.

     Aldermen also took a moment to note the death of a city employee, Ronnie Heathcock.

     “Every time I’ve seen him he was jolly and wanting to make sure he was doing what he was supposed to,” Maxwell said.

     Heathcock, 39, was a street department employee and died of a heart attack while on the job Wednesday morning.

     “We lost a good man,” Phillips said.