By John Mullen
In Fairhope, there appears to be a failure to communicate between mayor and council, and it’s nowhere more evident than as elected officials try to hammer out a fiscal year 2018 budget.
Mayor Karin Wilson says she’s tried to discuss it with council members but is having trouble soliciting ideas from them.
“Every time we have met, which hasn’t been very many times — I’ve only met with three of the five council members — very quick, superficial meetings,” Wilson said. “They’re not asking me questions. They’ve appointed a finance committee that I’ve spent more time with than the council people.”
Councilman Robert Brown says the mayor doesn’t want to hear any ideas but her own.
“When you go into a meeting with the mayor, sometimes it’s hard to communicate with her,” Brown said. “She’s going to take control of the meeting and tell you why she’s doing it instead of listening to what your objections to it are. So, at this point going in and talking about the budget would be counterproductive in my opinion.”
The budget is set to come up again at the Dec. 18 council meeting, but Brown believes it is highly unlikely to win approval then. The 2018 fiscal year started on Oct. 1 and since then the city has been running on an extension of the fiscal year 2017 budget to pay the bills.
“It’ll be totally done in the first couple of months of 2018,” Brown said. “Last year I think we approved it in April or May and I’m not trying to set that as a timeline for every year. Maybe we’ll approve a couple of months earlier this year and next year we’ll get it approved a little sooner.”
One of Brown’s biggest concerns is the use of $2 million from the reserve fund to balance the budget while at the same time creating new positions within Fairhope’s government.
“There’s also a couple of million dollars of additional personnel with this budget,” Brown said. “Once you add people, 99 percent of the time they are not going to be taken off. There will be more people added. To me, the $2 million in cash reserves negates the $2 million in additional personnel.”
Wilson said the new personnel will save the city money by reducing the amount of work done by outside contractors.
“We have less employees now than we did in 2010, which has created a ton of inefficiencies and reduced services,” she said. “We have to have the expertise in the city. We’re contracting a lot of it out now and it’s costing us more money. So, there’s a lot of solutions in this budget.
“But, again, when you don’t communicate you prolong the process.”
Wilson said she began presenting individual department budgets in council meetings beginning in June in hopes the council would be able to get through it and pass it by Oct. 1. It was first presented in mid-September.
“I decided that I thought that dividing it up by departments it would be easier to digest, because it took council two months to approve the last budget,” she said. “And we couldn’t afford that as a city.”
Brown said the delay is not intentional but a matter of getting the best budget possible.
“We’re not trying to slow anything and the city’s still functioning,” he said. “I’m just trying to do my job as a councilman.”