Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TOP STORY > >New budget gets revision in Cabot

Leader staff writer

Bill Cypert, Cabot’s incoming mayor, is making changes to the proposed $9.7 million 2011 budget that he believes will make the city more appealing to investors and more pleasant for the workers, changes that will cost almost $50,000.

He wants to renovate the foyer in the Cabot Chamber of Commerce office, replace the carpet in the commons room used by the city and the chamber, add seating in the council chambers at the city annex for the press and city attorney and tint the windows at city hall so it’s not so hot during the spring and fall. Those improvements will cost $17,600.
He also wants about $30,000 to pay overtime for firefighters so the fire chief and assistant chief don’t have to fill in when firefighters don’t come to work.

Cypert attended a budget and personnel committee meeting Monday night where council members signed off on the changes.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams took office four years ago when the general fund was in the red and cut personnel to save on wages so the city now has about $3 million in savings. Williams didn’t stay for the three-hour meeting but when interviewed later, it was clear that he was not pleased with the changes.

“My dad taught me that if you watch the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. That’s how I managed my household and put four girls through college without student loans. And that’s my advice to the council now; watch the pennies,” Williams said.

“I know I’ve been called cheap,” the mayor said. “I’m not. I’m a fiscal conservative who makes sure we get a good return on the money we spend.”

Cypert said his planned improvements for the chamber of commerce office, in a building owned by the city, are needed to help economic development in the city. Representatives of businesses considering locating in Cabot come to the chamber of commerce first, he said. So the offices need to be presentable. The improvements are estimated at $8,550.

“We’re a first-class city. We need to look like it,” he said.

That same reason applies to the $3,500 it is expected to cost to replace the folding tables and plastic chairs in the council chambers that are set out before meetings for the city attorney and press.

“It’s a matter of professionalism,” he said.

But the estimated $5,550 for tinting the windows at city hall is for the comfort of the staff. Cypert said incoming Clerk-Treasurer Tammy Yocom brought the problem to his attention. The offices were remodeled about five years ago during former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh’s administration. Walls were moved but the heating and cooling system was not realigned to fit the new spaces.

Cypert said he asked Jerrel Maxwell, public works director, to look into upgrading the system and Maxwell came back with an estimate of $47,000. By comparison, $5,550 to put tinted plastic on the windows is a bargain, he said.

The $30,000 Cypert wants for overtime for firefighters is mostly about morale, he said.

To keep cost down, Williams cut the overtime and gave Chief Phil Robinson the option of bringing in part-time firefighters from other departments. The mayor said paying for part-time help was less expensive for the city than paying time and a half for overtime.

But instead of filling those part-time slots, Robinson and Assistant Fire Chief Mark Smart filled in themselves when two firefighters were off sick for an extended period and three stayed for several weeks with their newborn babies. Since the two chiefs are paid salaries and not by the hour, they worked free for a total of more than 1,600 hours.

Cypert said that isn’t fair to them, but mostly it was bad for the other firefighters who strongly objected to having to live in the same quarters with their bosses.

“It was causing some morale issues,” Cypert said. “I heard about it during the campaign too.”

In the past three months, the city has added three firefighters whose wages will be paid for two years with a grant. Williams said he is concerned that in addition to the $30,000 in overtime, the city will have to pay an estimated $150,000 in salaries for the new firefighters when the grant is gone.

The budget and personnel committee was agreeable to the $30,000 for overtime just as it approved the remodeling Cypert asked for. But Cypert told the committee that even though he wants the overtime in the budget, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be used.

Cypert also expressed concern Monday night about the $500 a month that the city pays to Safe Haven, the shelter in Lonoke County that takes in abused women and their children.

Since 2005 the city has had a service agreement with Safe Haven that includes such service from the shelter as transportation, education and operating a hotline.

But the agreement clearly calls the fee the city pays a donation, which Cypert says he believes is illegal.

Alderman Ann Gilliam spoke for continuing funding the shelter saying $500 is a very small fee for someone’s life, a child’s life.

Cypert suggested leaving the agreement as it is until January and reassess at that time. But Alderman Rick Prentice said that since the agreement has not been questioned by the state after five audits, the solution is to simply rewrite the agreement and take out the reference to the fee being a donation.

Neither of the other non-profits had asked for help from the city.

“If they need it, they should come ask,” Prentice said.