Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson said she could find a way to allay some of Council President Jack Burrell’s concerns over the city’s 2020 budget.
“Well, free family insurance is a start,” Wilson said during a budget work session on Sept. 30. About three hours into the nearly four-hour session Wilson and Burrell clashed over revenue projections and other issues and it morphed into a commentary over the city’s healthcare plan for employees and elected officials that is completely free. It prompted the following exchange.
Burrell: “You are welcome to not participate at any time. Do you want to talk to the treasurer and refuse it? Do you want to write a check back to the city for the past three years you’ve taken it?”
Wilson: “I’m the cheapest mayor in Fairhope history.”
Burrell: “We’re talking medical benefits, health benefits. One more word and I’m going to ask the [police] chief to escort you out of the room.”
Wilson: “Let’s do it. [Claps her hands.] I just said another word.”
Councilman Robert Brown: “We’re not at that point.”
Burrell: “We’ve been past that point for three years.”
Wilson: “No, we’re not at that point. If you’re going to charge me like that, that’s ridiculous.”
Burrell: “I’ve been asking you to let the council speak now for the last 30 minutes.”
And, so goes another budget session in Fairhope with one of the issues being adding a city administrator to the payroll.
“Except for maybe Daphne, every city that I put together has a full-time city administrator position,” Wilson said about an oft-repeated issue of her contentious first term as mayor, now in its third year. “I’m just saying that you do need administrative help if the mayor is going to be able to spend the amount of time needed.”
Burrell cited the Sept. 10 council meeting where the council voted to up the mayor’s salary and the previous hiring of an administrator to oversee all of the utility departments.
“We would raise the salary of the mayor to be full time and run the day-to-day operations of the city, therefore, I think the mayor’s the chief administrator,” Burrell said. “And we have a director of operations to run the utilities. What else do you need?”
Wilson said more and more duties are taking time from some day-to-day tasks and she needs help.
“There are some other things that have pulled me away from things that we really want to do for planning and future stuff,” she said. “I don’t want to argue because I don’t feel you’re going to listen to me. I just want you to look at other cities. And they definitely have city administrators.”
Burrell said he’s concerned Fairhope’s expanding government is going to lead to financial hardships and he wants to limit adding employees.
“Just our administrative salaries alone last year were budgeted at $1.45 million,” Burrell said. “This year they are budgeted at $1.85 million. That’s $2,000 short of a $400,000 increase in administrative salaries in general government. Just last year to this year that’s a 27.3 percent increase proposed by the mayor and staff. That’s just not sustainable.”
Another special-called budget work session is planned for Oct. 7, six days after FY (fiscal year) 2020 began on Oct. 1.
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