Council may up fees, cut raises

Published 11:47 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Andalusia’s newly-elected city council is still 18 days away from taking the oath of office, but already, they are being asked to make tough decisions.

In an organizational workshop meeting Wednesday night, Mayor-elect Earl Johnson recommended that the new council approve an increase in garbage fees and put a moratorium on a previously-approved cost of living raise for city employees.

Johnson, who has been working with city clerk John Thompson to prepare the budget for the current fiscal year, presented a proposed budget and made the two recommendations which he said will put the city on more solid ground. His proposed $11.3 million budget, he said, is approximately $1.3 million less than department heads requested.

“We went through it item by item, looked at costs and trimmed where we could,” he said, adding that the city is required by law to have a 10 percent contingency fund.

The budget burden was eased, he said, when research showed that fees collected for court costs can be used to fund the city’s court system. At present, those fees are only being used to pay the cost of placing inmates in the county jail. The fund has accumulated $250,000, he said.

Johnson recommended that the council increase garbage rates from $10 per month for each 90-gallon hobo to $13 per month, and to $15 per month in two years. The rate has not been increased in eight years, he said. The increase would generate $160,000 in revenue in one year, he said. A survey of similar cities showed Andalusia’s current garbage rates among the lowest.

Councilman-elect Hazel Griffin said, “We’re going to get a lot of flack,” but Johnson said the council must move forward or cut services.

“By doing that and the one-time punch we get in court fees, we’ve come up with a balanced budget,” he said.

He also asked the new council to consider instituting a moratorium on a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) approved by the current administration for city employees, a move that would save $240,000 this year.

“When they voted, tax revenue was still going up,” Johnson said. “City employees who have been here less than 20 years get a step raise every year. They’re already getting a 2 to 4 percent increase in salary. If you put 2.5 percent on top of that, they’re getting between 4.5 ad 6 percent.”

City employees have gotten a total of 12 percent COLA over the last four years, he said.

Johnson recommended a moratorium on the COLA, with the exception of the 21 employees who are past the 20-year mark and will not get a step raise this year.

“Everybody still gets a raise if we do it this way,” he said.

When council members expressed concern and said employees wouldn’t like it, Johnson said, “Here are our options. We can make a decision that is based on fair judgment and business principles and impacts them some, or we can wait until it’s critical and release them from employment.”

Councilman-elect Kenneth Mount pointed out that the current administration also agreed to pick the increase in health insurance premiums, which increased the city’s expenses to $80,000.

“That was a raise right there,” he said.

No actions were taken in the meeting, but the members of the council-elect were in general agreement on the recommendations.