Fairhope is poised to pass its $27 million general fund budget marking the second straight year for it to be adopted prior to Jan. 1. The 2017 – 2018 budget was delayed until Jan. 22, 2018, and the 2018 – 2019 budget was finalized in November 2018.
In a special called work session on Oct. 31, the council resolved any remaining issues on the budget and will likely vote on it at the next regular session on Nov. 13. Mayor Karin Wilson said she was pleased the process ended earlier this year, but criticized the delays.
“The most important job of council is adopting a budget by Oct. 1 and this has yet to happen for the fourth time,” Wilson said. “Because it was such a last-minute schedule, not all of the directors were available to comment or answer questions. My concern continues to be why this administration has to wait to move forward due to lack of communication and no sense of urgency to get the job done. The deadline to pass the budget is [Oct. 1].”
Councilman Robert Brown said the delay is part of the process and that no city services were delayed or canceled through the budget process.
“I think this will be the earliest that we’ve done it,” Brown said. “I don’t think anybody is intentionally dragging it out. For me at least the rate at which our general government is growing is excessive and it takes some time to get through it. Fortunately, trying to slow down the process people start realizing we are serious about trying to control expenditures.”
Another part of this year’s delay, Brown said, was getting late requests from some city departments.
“We listened to each department head give their presentation on what they wanted and the last department didn’t present it until the last meeting in September,” Brown said. “We couldn’t approve it before that or we certainly wouldn’t have been doing our jobs. By the time every department head presented, it gave us only about a week and a half.”
Several cuts were made even at the specially called meeting on Halloween, but Brown said it’s all an effort to stem the tide of a government he sees as growing too fast.
“We were able to cut over $200,000 worth of salaries before you put insurance and benefits on it,” Brown said. “And probably another $100,000 in capital expenditures. It’s not that we’re trying to get anybody to go without, but with the rate our general government is growing I was not pleased with it. That’s why I was trying to continue to make these cuts.”
Wilson said she was most pleased the budget was balanced without including revenue from the utility department.
“For the first time in Fairhope history, the 2020 city budget proposal requires zero dollars of utility profits to balance,” Wilson said. “The city is finally self-sustaining financially and can run independently from our utility department. I’m not sure how many ways I can articulate it, but this is a very good thing and something to be celebrated.”
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