City passes tight budget

The Demopolis City Council passed its budget for 2012-2013 during a special called meeting Wednesday evening.

The total budget calls for $9,842,628 in operational costs for the city, a number that represents a drop of approximately $113,000 from that of the previous year.

“We were very conservative on our revenue stream this year. Really the only thing we can control is expenses,” Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson said of the budget, which passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote with Councilman Harris Nelson not in attendance for the meeting.

Included in the budget was a $1,000 bonus for each full-time city employee not currently on administrative leave or in a probationary employment period.

“Once we pass the budget, I’m sure, our employees could use this for some Christmas money. So, that was my main motivation for calling this meeting,” Grayson said at the opening of the meeting. “I think it is a good budget, it’s not perfect. There are items on here that I’m not necessarily happy about, but I think it reflects what we need to do.”

The bulk of the discussion during the meeting revolved around the portion of the budget available to the public works department.

The department currently has six employment vacancies, positions Public Works Director Mike Baker has generally kept vacant until such time as the laborers were needed.

“The slots have always been there the last seven years,” Baker said of the employment slots that have typically been open to his department.

In its current manifestation, the budget offers no room for such positions as the city’s financial plan only calls for $72 more in revenue than expenses.

“We try to save as much as we can. The winter time is a lot slower than the summer time. That’s when I usually hire people in the spring to have them trained for summer work,” Baker said when asked the nature of the positions.

The council consented that a budget adjustment may be necessary in the future should Baker need to hire more laborers.

Councilman Mitchell Congress expressed his concern over the aged condition of the trucks being utilized by Public Works. With limited funds available to purchase new vehicles, Grayson pointed to other avenues the city will have to utilize in order to meet its needs.

“I’m hoping that this year, we’ll be able to utilize the state auction. Hopefully we can utilize that perhaps better than we have in the past,” Grayson said.

The council also visited the matter of council travel costs. That number had been set at $10,000 in the previous year’s budget but was lowered to $5,000 this year despite a request to restore it to its former amount.

“When we have two departments that were hit pretty significantly with reductions, the finance committee just felt like it would not be appropriate to put money in council travel,” Grayson explained.

“I just thought that since we had three new council members, their going to training sessions would be advantageous to them,” Congress responded. “There’s a lot you can learn, especially at those conferences and through taking classes.”

In closing the discussion, Grayson chalked the matter up to a necessary evil of this year’s budget.

“This is not a perfect budget. There are things in here that, if we had an unlimited bucket of money, I think we could certainly make those changes,” Grayson said. “The finance committee thought long and hard about this. It was not entered into lightly to try to make the best use of the people’s money.”