LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The REAL information in the 2014 proposed budget

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
I have questions for the Luverne Mayor/City Council.
Recently I visited City Hall and requested a copy of the City of Luverne Proposed Budget 2015, which will be voted on at the September 22, 2014, by our City Councilmen, at the next City Council Meeting.
I was denied my right to copies of the minutes/proposed budget even after showing the City Clerks the below Alabama Law. The City Clerks had to contact City Attorney, Mike Jones, and later in the afternoon I was provided a copy. I was deeply saddened that I had to present the Code of Alabama 1975, 36-12-40 law to these ladies to make my point. The law , ”Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.” Public record is defined at Code of Alabama 1975, 41-13-1 as “all written, typed or printed books, papers, letters documents and maps made or received in pursuance of law by public officers of the state, counties, municipalities and other subdivisions of government in the transaction of public business.”
I understand the situation that I placed these ladies in because I know they had to abide by the instructions of their employer, Mayor Sport. Just to think that I had to go through all this in my own hometown to see and request a copy of a public document. Really folks, we do live in the 21st Century.
Let’s review the REAL information in the 2015 Proposed Budget. This may be your only opportunity to receive information regarding the budget, since you will not have the opportunity to review it until AFTER it is APPROVED by our City Councilpersons. I am strongly recommending that you contact your District Councilperson and insist they POSTPONE the adoption of this budget until they read and totally understand it. Very recently, I have talked to Council members and they could not answer my questions.
Please note, I do not totally understand the information in the budget since line items are missing, information is vague in many areas and some items/expenses are additionally listed in other categories. However, I will help you as taxpayers, as well as City Councilpersons, to understand my concerns. It is my hope that the Mayor/City Council will discuss this budget openly in the next City Council Meeting, seek answers, discuss with the taxpayers in your districts and table the motion to pass this budget until ALL Councilpersons totally understand what is presented to them in this budget.

Three (3) issues:
Mayor and City Councilpersons did not have a prior budget meeting developing the budget for each of the five districts. The Mayor presented the budget and no discussion. Councilman Sipper said he wanted to read and think about it before voting. The other four (4) councilmen made no comments. Voting on the budget was set to occur on September 22, 2014.
Department heads were not involved in developing the budget prior to it being presented to the City Council. These professionals would be aware of their department needs and their input would be valuable for the coming year.
Citizens were not provided an opportunity to attend a Budget workshop, hearings, or meetings and the proposed budget was not printed in local paper for citizens to read. Therefore, if taxpayers had an issue with item(s) in the budget, taxpayers could contact their District Councilpersons and ask for an explanation(s). At least their voice would have been heard and they would have had an input into the process. But like the Department Heads, they too did not have a voice.
Bank Account List as of August 31, 2014 – Beginning Budget $635,250.65; Current Balance $789,753.73.
City Beginning Balance of $2,387,892.25 and the Current Balance of $2,413,356.94
Why do we need an additional 1-cent sales tax when we collected $795, 000 and we only needed $733,000 to meet budget. Actually viewing the overall budget Luverne has only spent 76.18% of the money actually budgeted to operate the City as of August 31, 2014.
It might be noted that Playground Equipment cannot be afforded by the City but of the $171,000 budgeted for Luverne Parks and Recreation; only $110,000 has been spent. Viewing the budget as of this writing, August 31, 2014, it seems there is $59,000 available for Play Ground Equipment, that is, if the Mayor and City Council chose to use this money to accommodate the children of Luverne and surrounding areas.
Budget for 2015
There is $45,000 budgeted for the Mayor and Council. It would be prudent for the City to itemize this expenditure; as well as, other expenditures throughout the proposed budget.
Engineering (Morris Tate)
Viewing the fees set aside for engineering there is an $88,000 Contract amount and another $1500 for Engineering Services, $17,500 for Professional Fees, plus $35,000 for Engineering expense in Electrical Department within the Budget. One may question who is getting the $17,500, $1500 and $35,000. Who gets the $25,000 Professional Services allocated in the 2015 Budget for the Electrical Board? Is Mr. Tate the same Engineer? In addition, Mr. Tate, Mayor Sport and Merrill Sport serves on the Electrical Board and receives a small stipend ($3,000 total for all) for serving on this Board.
The Issue, would it be a conflict of interest if Mr. Tate is under a separate Contract with the City of Luverne. Please help me understand if he is under contract, should he be furnished a City vehicle or receive City Benefits. Is the contract with him as the City Employee or his Engineering Company? I do not know this information; but I would like to know this information. I do not wish to quote misinformation; I am just viewing the budget. It states Contract. Does Mr. Tate write grants for the City and receive extra funds for grant writing since he is a City Employee? Is Mr. Tate the only City Engineer or there other engineers the City employs?
Administrative Costs
Viewing the administrative costs for 2015, the $100,000 for the three (3) City Clerks seems to be a reasonable amount. But viewing other information on the same page there is $37,000 for the same City Clerks to handle court work. This means an average of, $45,666, plus benefits. Do these two salaries follow the law? Not saying these ladies are not worth the salary, but why break it into two salaries. Surely they all do not make the same salary.
Police / Parks and Recreational Department Uniforms
I fully understand the Police Uniforms with a budget of $6,000. Our City Police need at all times to look professional and I am proud to say, they do.
However, the Parks and Recreational Department has a budget of $25,000 for uniforms and equipment. Are they that well dressed? I assume, which I may be incorrect, but most ball teams are sponsored and have their own equipment. The Recreational Director (Simmons) is also furnished a vehicle and is employed as a City Policeman as well as with the Crenshaw County Sheriff’s Department. Does the City need to furnish a vehicle for his use in the Recreation Department? Another issue I do not understand, since it is not itemized in the budget.
To the best of my understanding with the City showing income and expense for a Concession Stand at the Ballpark, it would appear that this concessions could be bid to one of the local Charities and get the City out of the Hotdog and Sun Drop business; while allowing a charity(s) to earn money for a good cause which would help our citizens.
The projected income for concessions is $20,000 and $15,000 is budgeted for expense. Please help me to understand why does the city need to run the concessions?
Capitol Outlay/Miscellaneous/Other
There are extremely large sums of money, ($7,500; $15,000; $1,500; $25,000; $12,500; $18,250; $2,500; $ 35,000; $15,000; $1,000; $20,000) listed under several categories as Capitol Outlay/Miscellaneous/Other. These items should be itemized so one would know what and where these funds are being spent.
Why do we need an expense item of $5,000 for fuel at the Airport? The pilots pay for their own fuel. The City should break even or make a profit on sales.
Zoning Laws
Zoning Laws need to be enforced within the City since Mr. Neal (City Inspector) is being paid ($10,500-part-time) and furnished a vehicle to enforce these laws. We have a Zoning Committee, which should be involved in making these decisions and a follow up from this committee to make certain all laws are approved by the proper authority.
Furnished City Vehicles
Viewing the budget, there is no vehicle expense shown in the Administrative Division of the Budget. Where in the budget is this expense being paid and Why? Should the Recreation and Park vehicle stay at the Park or City Hall?
SMART presented the City of Luverne a vehicle. Why does the Mayor need a truck furnished by the City when a vehicle is furnished by our friends, SMART?
Electric Board
The members of the Electric Board, as listed on the City Website, are paid $3,000 total for serving on the board. Members include Mayor Sport, Chairman, Morris Tate, (City Engineer) and Merrill Sport (nephew of Mayor Sport.) Since the City employs two of these individuals, should they receive extra compensation?
As listed in the budget, a cost of $å60,000 per year. What is being printed to cost so much? It is not itemized.
The best I can tell after viewing the August 31, 2014, the City had approximately $247,000 in Certificates of Deposit. It seems that they could take some cash and build a Playground for our Children, totally redo the City Website, purchase a vehicle for animal control/use a police officer already employed and Clean-up Luverne without raising taxes.
Animal Control
I did not see anything in this budget for Animal Control. The City needs to support efforts of the new animal control shelter. Our animals deserve a voice and we need to be that voice. We all should support our animals, not just the City. You can always give a donation and or provide a bag of dog/cat food. Anything, I am sure will be gladly appreciated. You may even be lucky and take one to their forever home as your new friend.
Please make certain that your local Councilman in your District attends the next Council Meeting and ask to review the line item budget (every expenditure anticipated), and VOTES against the 1-cent City Tax increase which is not needed. I encourage everyone to get involved and attend City Council meetings and speak with their Councilman on a regular basis, stating the needs of their District. If we all work on the TEAM LUVERNE, we can make a difference in the future of Luverne for its citizens.
I am presenting the information in front of me, as I understand it. If I have misinterpreted any of this information, please let me know and I will stand corrected. There are still so many questions on the Proposed 2015 Budget. The Budget is vague in some areas and I do not understand since items are not itemized. It is most interesting to note that the Mayor did not budget for the extra 1-cent sales tax in his 2015 Proposed Budget. We are meeting the Proposed Budget without the 1-cent sales tax.
Please Mr. Mayor, tell us how many the CDs does the city own and why we need all of this money sitting in the bank at low interest rates and why is there no line item for interest income in the budget.
Anyone wondering… I have a new hobby and it all began because I just wanted to clean-up the City of Luverne, not City Hall. It would appear, I have found more clutter in City Hall than I found on the City streets.
This is all from me; I am having a Sun Drop withdrawal.

Pat Floyd, Ph.D.
Luverne, Alabama

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