Florala agrees to search for city clerk, raise business fees

Published 9:01 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday marked a new beginning for the newly elected administration in Florala as members announced plans to search for a new police chief and city clerk, as well as approve a 15 percent across-the-board increase in business licenses fees.

In a process similar to that of selecting a new police chief, Mayor Robert Williamson announced the plan to hire a new clerk.

“We’ll advertise through the 19th; take applications through the 26th and announce a clerk by Dec. 8th or in a special called meeting,” Williamson said.

Williamson said the city clerk’s position is a four-year position that ends when a new administration takes office and that the council did not choose to reappoint Lykeshia Anderson as clerk. Kathy Rathel, a current city employee, has been appointed as interim city clerk.

An audit of the city’s financials showed several serious issues in the way the city handled its money, one of which cost the city $7,500 in overdraft fees. Statements from the city’s audit company, Rabren, Odom, Pierce & Hayes, P.C., stated, “The city did not have adequate control” over its financial situation. It also stated the cause of the findings could be attributed to “lack of personnel during the fiscal year with sufficient knowledge” of how to do the city’s accounting.

Williamson said the salary will be set between $400 and $500 a week and applicants must be a high school graduate, with some college, management experience and bookkeeping or accounting experienced preferred. Functions of the job include the day-to-day administrative operations of the city such as keeping track of financial information, payroll, accounts payable/receivable and maintaining all city records and more.

Additionally, to help with the “situation” of “getting the books in order,” the council agreed to hire Joy Taylor for 40 hours a week at $14 an hour until the end of the month.

“We have to get in order for the next year’s audit,” Williamson said.

He said that he had spoken to several auditors whose charge ranged from $40 an hour to $80 an hour and that he felt that Taylor’s price was a bargain.

The council agreed to re-evaluate Taylor’s progress on Nov. 30 before discussing a way to increase revenue for the city.

District 1 Councilwoman Hazel Lee said she felt that the surest way to increase revenue was to increase business licenses fees.

“I’ve looked at what we charge and I don’t think we’d be out of line with other cities of our size if we increased the fee,” Lee said. “Looking at the coming year, the city needs the revenue.”

Councilmen Marvin Williford (District 2) and Danny Thames (District 3) both thought the increase would place an additional burden on business owners.

“I feel like this is a bad time (to initiate the increase),” Williford said. “I think we should wait and see if the economy can get back on track. I’d like to see us put it off until 2009-2010.”

Lee said the additional 15 percent “isn’t going to put someone out of business” while Williamson said initially a 25 percent increase was discussed.

“The way I see it, this city has two main sources of revenue — sales tax and business licenses,” Lee said. “With the economy the way it is, there’s nothing we can do about the sales tax, but last year we got $134,000 from business licenses. That 15 percent, it’s not huge money, but it’s needed money.

“If we don’t find some revenue, we’re going to go broke,” she said.

When the measure’s roll call vote was taken, each of the council members, with the exception of Williford, approved the increase.

In other business, the council:

appointed Sue Mathis to collect the boat ramp fees;

announced a budget workshop on Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. as well as a town hall meeting in District 1 at the Carver Community Center on Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m.

met for a 35-minute executive session to discuss pending litigation.

The next meeting of the Florala city council is Mon., Nov. 17, at 6:30 p.m.