The city of Daphne’s proposed $30 million operations budget may not include overtime for public works employees, funding for an independent school system feasibility study or a hike in the city’s garbage collection fee, but it will include $5,000 for a retreat fund for the City Council.
The Council’s retreat fund will increase from $1,500 to $5,000 if the budget is passed. While that may not seem like a lot, councilmembers said the increase is needed after what they called a difficult year of contentious votes.
At its previous regular meeting, Councilman Joe Davis III resigned following a 4-3 rejection of the annexation of land connected to the proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC), of which he was a proponent.
Following the DISC deliberations and vote, as well as other contentious votes during the year, the members said they needed time to reconnect with each other and “get on the same page.”
“We’ll have a new council person in place and we just need to find time to increase our teamwork heading into the final year of this administration,” Councilman Randy Fry said. “We need to reset our goal setting and priorities.”
Councilman Robin LeJeune said the increased retreat budget would give the Council time to find “common ground.”
“We’ve had some hard issues to deal with this year and this budget process has been contentious,” LeJeune said. “We need to be able to take a step back and go on a retreat together, to find common ground. That’s especially important as we will be introducing a new member.”
Councilman John Lake said he hoped the retreat would include an educational component, where members could be reminded of the laws and responsibilities it must uphold.
The Council discussed its operations budget at a special meeting Monday night at City Hall. The Council will discuss and possibly vote to approve the budget at its next meeting, Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. If the budget is not approved, the Council could vote to extend the current budget for one month. Following passage of its operations budget, the Council still has to pass a capital budget.
One major contention in Mayor Dane Haygood’s proposed operations budget is a reduction in overtime for public works employees.
Public Works Director Richard Johnson said the reduction amounts to a 28 percent cut in overtime for employees, who often work late nights and weekends for special events in the city. Public works employees set up and take down barricades for Mardi Gras and other parades, keep the city’s streets clean and perform some maintenance at the city’s schools. The employees also face extended hours during summer months as they are charged with keeping the city’s grass mowed during rainy periods.
Johnson said an additional 1.7 miles of sidewalks were a public works priority in the next year, but a reduction in overtime could slow the progress of the project. He said his department faced a $2,500 overtime reduction in recycling, a $10,000 overtime reduction in garbage collection and $10,000 overtime reduction in trash collections. There are additional overtime cuts department wide.
“As the city has grown, public works has been given more responsibilities, and now we are being asked to do more with less time to work,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, much of the work on the city’s sidewalk extension would need to be done on Saturdays because of the workload his employees face during normal business hours during the week.
“We don’t necessarily have to work on Saturdays, but we have to be aggressive to finish 1.7 miles of sidewalks in a year,” Johnson said. “Either we work on the sidewalks on Saturday, or else other things don’t get done during the week. As we add projects to our workload, our solution has always been to work on Saturdays and give our employees overtime. But without the overtime [pay], the project will take longer and some other things may get deferred.”
Councilman Ron Scott said he understands the need for overtime, but if the mayor doesn’t want to fund something like overtime, he doesn’t have to do it. The mayor said budgeting means making choices that are sometimes unpopular.
“Every request is worthy, but we have to prioritize and in order to have a balanced budget, we sometimes have to leave things out,” Haygood said.
Councilman John Lake said it was not fair to take overtime away from employees who may need it to meet their own family’s budget each month.
“For some of them, it may mean the difference in paying the light bill and feeding their family,” Lake said.
“Overtime is something we pay when we need to get a project done,” LeJeune said. “It isn’t supposed to be something our employees live off.”
Fry said his priority in the next budget cycle is funding a $1.8 million project to extend sewer service to the remaining parts of the city still using septic tanks. The majority of citizens without public sewers live near Whispering Pines Road. Fry said some of the project’s price tag could be offset with an expected grant the city expects to have confirmed within 60 days.
“This is a project that would be beneficial not only to the homeowners who would receive sewer service, but to the entire community,” Fry said. “It would help ease some of our environmental concerns stemming from some homes using old septic tanks, which could break at any time.”
Other amendments approved by the City Council on Monday included an increase in its donation to the Thomas Hospital birthing center campaign from $5,000 to $30,000 and an increase in pay to its municipal judge and prosecutor by $2,000 annually each.
LeJeune offered an amendment to include $50,000 in the budget to pay for a study on the feasibility of an independent school system in Daphne, but the motion failed.