By Randy Bell
Clinton leaders would have more money to spend in the new fiscal year without imposing a tax increase under a budget proposal the Board of Aldermen is considering. Mayor Phil Fisher has presented the Board a $24.04 million budget, which provides a three percent raise for City employees and salary increases ranging from ten percent to eighteen percent for several department heads. It represents a $10 million increase in spending since 2014.
“Our budget has gotten bigger,” says Fisher, “and it’s gotten better.”
Even though the millage rate will stay the same, the City expects to collect an additional half-million dollars in property tax revenue because of increased values.
Fisher says the budget funds every request from every City department.
In July, each department head met with City Clerk Jimmy Baldree, who also serves as Clinton’s chief financial officer, to go over what they wanted. After assembling all the requests, Baldree and Fisher looked to see how they matched up to the expected revenue.
“In the past, it was a question of what do we need to cut out,” the mayor recalls. “This year, it works so that everything they asked for, they got.”
The department heads who would receive pay raises under the budget proposal are Public Works Director Phillip Lilley (18%), Main Street Director Tara Lytal (12%), Director of Therapeutic Recreation Chandra Broomfield (12%), Director of Community Development Roy Edwards (10%) and Director of Communications and Tourism Marlee Price (10%).
Fisher insists it’s a matter of trying to hold onto valuable employees.
“They haven’t been raised in many, many years,” said Fisher. “So, I’m putting it in front of [the Board] this year, the lowest paid department heads, to bring them back up to a competitive level with their peers.”
Over the course of two weeks, all department heads came before the Board to discuss their budget requests. Baldree made it clear at a meeting on August 2 that the requests weren’t extravagant.
“They’re not asking for pie in the sky,” he said. “Our approach is, let’s trust our department heads.”
According to Fisher, the budget proposal includes new spending, carryover items from the current fiscal year and some savings. He admits it’s a complicated process. As presented to the Board, there would be a balance of $69,700 at the end of the fiscal year.
Two Board members are already talking about additional budget items. The aldermen haven’t gotten a pay raise in years, and Ward 1’s Karen Godfrey wants to see a $5,000 increase.
“When you first start, you come in not knowing what the job entails,” she says. “And then you get into it, and you realize the amount of hours that you spend researching and reading all the information, being prepared for our meetings. And $15,000 a year is not enough for what we do.”
Godfrey believes there are places in the budget where the money could be found. She’d also like to see the mayor’s salary increased. Fisher says the Board members can do what they want in terms of giving themselves a pay raise, but he wants any increase for the mayor to be effective after the next City elections.
Alderwoman-at-Large Ricki Garrett thinks Board members also deserve some administrative support.
“If we need any kind of help, whether it’s writing a letter or getting copies made, it’s just not there,” she says. “All of these seven Board members have full-time jobs, and we’re absolutely swamped with work in this part-time position. We ran for these positions and expected to do a lot of work – and we do – but it would be nice to have someone assigned to the Board as a whole who could provide some support, whatever that might be.”
Garrett appreciates the help Board members get from the department heads when information is requested.
“But that’s not the same as having some administrative support for the Board.”
Clintonians will have a chance to make suggestions on City spending before the plan is finalized.
“We have to have a public hearing on the budget,” the mayor says. “That will be held September 5,” during the regular Board of Aldermen meeting. State law gives municipalities until September 15 to approve a budget, which takes effect October 1.