Here’s a riddle: If a city official signs a worker’s check, is that worker a municipal employee?
The answer is complicated and depends upon whom you ask.
Representatives for the Mobile Public Library asked the City Council to amend the organization’s allotment in the budget to represent the 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment given to all city employees.
The library is level funded with more than $7 million in expenses in the proposed budget; however, Library Board President Barbara Lenaghan said unless the city can provide additional funding to cover raises, the library could face a $150,000 shortfall.
“It’s very important that we get our funding,” Lenaghan said, following the meeting. “[Library Executive Director] Scott Kinney does a wonderful job with the money we do get.”
Kinney told councilors the library’s board approved the raises based upon a resolution giving a pay increase to all city employees. However, administration officials believe library employees aren’t actually city employees.
When asked, Kinney said the city signs the checks and said the library was founded in 1901 as a municipal library.
“Since 1901 every administration except this one has provided funding for raises,” he said.
While city employees and library employees do share the same employer identification number, City Attorney Ricardo Woods said the latter are not under the direction of the municipality. In addition, he said the city was working on separating the EINs by January 1.
“Getting non-city employees out from underneath the city’s umbrella will be beneficial for a number of reasons,” Woods told councilors.
Changes to the way library employees are handled going forward would also require additional costs for the organization as it would need to hire an employee to handle payroll, or contract with a service.
If it remains as-is in the budget, the level funding gives the library three options, Kinney said, agreeing with Councilman Levon Manzie who explained it. The library would have to find money within its budget, make cuts or reduce the salaries of employees already given the raise for about half of 2019.
Increased funding designed to keep the Mobile Botanical Gardens (MBG) open was another item discussed during a brief public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s newest spending plan includes a $5,000 performance contract for the gardens, which constitutes level funding for the organization.
Given recent fears the gardens could close later this month without an infusion of cash, Executive Director Robin Krchak asked members of the Mobile City Council for more operational support in the budget.
The gardens have grown over the years and have seen an increase in attendance and memberships, she said.
“What has not increased is the operating support from our owner,” Krchak said. “The botanical gardens has raised all of its own funds, with the exception of $5,000 from the city and $4,000 from the county.”
In an email to stakeholders with the subject line “a message of hope for the gardens,” MBG staff announced an increase of 55 members since late August. Memberships help defray the $500,000 operating budget for the gardens, as does the $5 admission.
While Krchak did not specify a level of support she would like added to the budget, it was previously reported the gardens face a $150,000 shortfall.
One solution offered by Mobile resident Ronald Hunt during the hearing was to take $75,000, or half of the shortfall amount, from about $376,000 in funds designated to help bolster the city’s reserves.
The remaining balance, he said, could be distributed amongst various afterschool or summer programs, as well as McKemie Place, Via!, the Connie Hudson Regional Senior Community Center and the Oakleigh mansion.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium General Manager Victor Knight asked the council to consider additional funding for the decades-old facility, even as the stadium’s board awaits more funding promised in the 2019 budget.
Administration officials are currently working on a budget amendment that would give the stadium’s board the additional $750,000 the council approved during budget negotiations last year. That money was supposed to be used to install a walking trail and also make upgrades to the facility.
In other business, the Mobile City Council approved a resolution celebrating Councilman Fred Richardson’s birthday by making Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, Fred Richardson Day. The resolution honoring the 80-year-old was read aloud by councilors, City Clerk Lisa Lambert and Mayor Stimpson, and includes some of Richardson’s most famous phrases and makes a reference to the fact that the District 1 representative wears two wristwatches.
Richardson, the resolution stated, retired from the U.S. Postal Service after almost three decades and graduated from the University of South Alabama with bachelor degrees in political science and history, as well as a master’s degree in history. He was appointed to the council in 1997 to fill the term of now-State Sen. Vivian Figures. Richardson said he was “surprised” by the acknowledgement and had a message for those questioning why he’s still on the council at age 80.
“I started late and I’m going to end late,” he said.
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