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November 24, 2017
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Council debates city bonuses

Latest budget draft causes confusion among officials

By Tia Lyons
This article was published November 10, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

Attempts to nail down figures in the latest draft of the 2018 city budget fell apart Thursday as incorrect numbers led to confusion among city officials and prompted aldermen to take a stand against a suggestion by Mayor Frank Hash regarding Christmas bonuses for city employees this year.

The El Dorado City Council Finance Committee did not accomplish what it had hoped to during a specially called meeting that was held prior to the regular meeting of the city council.

The committee had intended to review a budget proposal that reflected anticipated increases in employee health insurance costs for 2018.

However, aldermen said some of the numbers appeared incorrectly in the budget draft, and increases in other line items led to more questions.

It was in response to these questions that Hash suggested that aldermen postpone a vote on $113,325.70 for 2017.

Several council members objected, saying that the finance committee agreed earlier this week to place the proposed bonuses on the council’s agenda for Thursday.

A brief but intense debate ensued, cuing Alderwoman Dianne Hammond, who heads up the finance committee, to poll council members individually.

Each alderman agreed that the council should proceed with the agenda as it had been set and vote on the Christmas bonuses, which are awarded to full-time city employees and city officials.

“That was all I wanted to know,” Hammond said after the poll.

Rising health insurance costs

The issue unfolded with city department heads presenting projected figures for anticipated increases in health insurance costs in 2018.

Members of the finance committee and department heads said initial costs that were presented Nov. 1 were incorrect.

City Treasurer Bonnie Wyles said then that health insurance premiums were expected to rise “quite a bit” in 2018.

Initial reports were that costs would go up by $102 per person, per month.

The finance committee and department heads later learned that the monthly costs would actually rise by $125 per person.

Fire Chief Chad Mosby said health insurance premium costs would increase by a total of $82,700 for his department.

After recalculating numbers, Police Chief Billy White told aldermen the increase for his department would be $102,000.

Robert Edmonds, director of public works, reported that health insurance costs will increase by $118,000 for his department.

Hash inquired about the difference in the number between the police and fire departments.

White and Mosby explained that the police department has 68 employees (51 uniformed and 17 civilian), versus 52 for the fire department, which has one civilian employee, an administrative assistant in the department’s City Hall offices.

Hammond distributed copies of the proposed 2018 city budget for the general fund.

The draft included budgeted and year-to-date numbers for 2017.

Intended business

Hash inquired about the finance committee’s intended business for the specially called meeting.

“We’re trying to keep the (2018) budget increase to 3 to 4 percent, and the numbers both chiefs presented with the health care increase fell within that,” Williamson said.

However, Williamson and Hammond said the budget draft that was distributed by Hammond did not reflect the correct numbers.

Hammond said Wyles was expected to have made the adjustments in preparation for the meeting Thursday.

Hash said he would work with Wyles and “make it a point to go through it line by line.”

While perusing the budget draft, Hash pointed to an abnormality in the repairs and maintenance line item in the administration budget.

“It was budgeted at $6,000 for 2017, and year to date, it’s ($22,886). For 2018, it’s $4,500,” the mayor said.

Williamson said the administration budget makes up a small percentage of the overall general fund.

He questioned a couple of line items himself, noting that legal services were budgeted at $20,000 for the year, but year-to-date expenditures came to $45,863.

The proposed budget for 2018 was $45,000.

Williamson also said year-to-date expenditures have exceeded the 2017 budget for the city’s share of operating expenses for the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex.

The city and Union County contribute to operating expenses for the complex.

The city budgeted $65,000 for 2017, and expenses are $78,318 for the year so far.

County officials voted last year that they would share the base budget, but would no longer pay 50 percent of any overages in expenditures at the complex.

Carry it forward

A short time later, Hash recommended that the council hold off on the vote for Christmas bonuses, saying that any budget balances could be forwarded to cover any budget shortfalls for 2018.

Williamson said the bonuses are not tied to the 2018 city budget, explaining the bonuses are paid with turnback money that is left in the various budgets at the end of each year.

Hammond also reminded Hash that she had asked each city department head if money was available in the respective budgets for 2017 bonuses, and each said yes.

“Ma’am, this is unspent city money. I hate to talk that way. If you have it, fine … Bonuses are nice if you have some slack,” the mayor said.

Alderman Willie McGhee reminded Hash that he attended the finance committee meeting on Nov. 6 when the question about Christmas bonuses was settled.

“You asked us to form this committee to look over things and come back and make a recommendation. We already had this discussion,” McGhee said.

“We’re still discussing it, Mr. McGhee … As we work along, the parameters change as you have more information,” Hash said.

Williamson called on the Finance Committee to table the meeting until corrections are made to the budget draft.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

CORRECTION

This article has been edited to reflect a more accurate headline.

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