Just over six months into its current fiscal year, Fairhope still doesn’t have a budget in place. Progress is being made, however, and the City Council called a special meeting for noon Wednesday to discuss the budget and the vacant position of public works director.
Three drafts of the budget have been put together, one by former Mayor Tim Kant and two by current Mayor Karin Wilson. Kant’s budget was essentially discarded following Wilson’s victory in last year’s municipal elections. Wilson asked for additional time to put together a budget reflecting her priorities, and she produced a draft a few weeks ago.
As Council President Jack Burrell was asking questions about the first draft and refusing to schedule it for a vote until he got answers, a second draft came out last week. At least some council members received it prior to the March 27 council meeting. Burrell said he did not get a copy and did not know it existed until Monday. Burrell said it’s possible he received the new document but mislaid it, as other council members seem to have received their copies.
“It’s nothing but a framework, and I have a lot of questions and concerns going forward,” Burrell said.
The second draft contains numerous changes from the first, including many line items that were increased or reduced by $200,000 or more. It is available for review on the city’s website.
Wilson said the changes resulted from council members’ questions about new positions and salary levels. “The questions that they had were focusing on the new positions that had to be hired.”
Her original version contained an error about total personnel savings, which Wilson said is around $60,000, not $30,000. She also provided more detail to the council about each position. When one number changes, it affects other budget numbers down the line, she said. “That’s why they printed a whole new book.”
Most of the positions, about 32, were in Kant’s original budget, she said.
The budget is actually two budgets, one for the city’s general operations and one for the city-owned utilities system. The general budget currently totals $29,556,600, while the utilities budget totals about $38,780,000.
Fairhope has long been in the practice of transferring utilities earnings to cover general expenses. Projected net earnings are $4.7 million, and the amount to be transferred currently totals about $3.1 million. One of Wilson’s goals is to reduce the amount transferred from utilities for general spending.
Overall, the general budget looks to be nearly $1 million higher than Kant proposed. The bottom line now is a small surplus of $30,550.
Burrell said he remains concerned revenue estimates should have been more conservative or a contingency amount should have been inserted in case of unexpected expenses. He also still has questions about the salaries and the number of new employees.
Burrell said four management positions created and/or replaced by Wilson increase the overall salary total for those positions. He estimated the total number of new positions at 48, more than Wilson’s projection.