Wednesday, January 24, 2007

TOP STORY >>Panel recommends $8.4M Cabot budget

Leader staff writer

It took a committee of five Cabot aldermen just one hour Monday night to unanimously approve Mayor Eddie Joe Williams’ proposed $8.4 million budget for 2007. By Tuesday morning Williams had called a meeting of the full council for 6 p.m. Wednesday to pass his spending plan, which includes five percent raises for most employees, a three percent raise for himself and a $672,297 savings account for future capital expenditures.

As for 2007, there will be no new police cars or fire trucks and no new employees in either fire or police. Alderman Eddie Cook, who chairs the council’s budget and personnel committee, praised the new mayor for presenting the committee with a budget that needed no work, only a quick review. Cook explained to the committee that Williams told his department heads to either make cuts in their own budgets, or the committee would do it for them. The result was a balanced city budget that would not require hours and hours of work before the council could accept it.

But by Tuesday morning, the goodwill was beginning to disintegrate. Alderman Becky Lemaster, one of the members of the budget committee, said she regretted her “yes” vote for the proposed budget. Lemaster said unlike other members of the committee, she did not get a copy of the proposed budget before the meeting. And she learned only after she reviewed it Tuesday morning that several positions were being cut in public works. Among those who will be dismissed, she said, is Jack McNally, who was hired by former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh as a combination safety officer and code-enforcement officer.
Lemaster said as she understood it, there would be no cuts. But Williams says he has always known he would have to cut positions to reduce expenses enough to save money for future projects like streets and a new fire station.

“This city is in trouble financially,” Williams said. McNally, who was Stumbaugh’s campaign manager when he ran for mayor, came under fire last year after two former residents said they believed McNally overstepped the bounds of his job as code enforcement officer and in the guise of cleaning up, took possessions from their homes. A police investigation essentially showed that McNally committed no criminal act, but residents might have cause for civil lawsuits.

Lemaster, who replaced Alderman Odis Waymack, the council member who brought McNally’s questioned activity to light, said she has observed McNally while he worked and she can attest that he has done a good job and provided a valuable service to the city. A city of 22,000 people needs more than the one code enforcement officer that will be left in public works if Williams’ proposed budget passes, Lemaster said.

Lemaster said the city had several safety violations when McNally was hired in 2003, but working conditions are much improved now. “We’re cutting the safety guy who is responsible for digging us out of the hole,” she said. “It looks like it’s vindictive to me. I want what’s best for the city, and I don’t think this is it.”

“It had nothing to do with Jack McNally. It was by seniority,” Williams said Tuesday afternoon in defense of his budget cuts.
The mayor said he has looked at other cities the size of Cabot and most don’t have more than one code-enforcement officer.
To take up any slack, he is requiring building inspectors to cross train in code enforcement, he said. Williams said that even though public works will lose the most employees if his budget is approved, all departments except police and fire will lose some and all who are cut will be the employees with the least seniority as recommended by the Municipal League, which advises the city on legal matters.

Williams said he has chosen not to cut police and fire personnel because it costs so much to train them. However, if people quit, their positions won’t be filled this year.