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Budget concerns resurface at Hogansville City Council meeting

HOGANSVILLE — City Council on Tuesday voted for a second time on its budget and some council members exchanged criticisms over the budget process.

At the top of Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said council needed to “re-vote” on the budget. On Thursday, three council members and the mayor were present for the vote on the budget, which narrowly passed 3-1. Stankiewicz said Tuesday the city’s charter calls for at least three affirmative votes by council members to approve a budget.

With all members present, council again voted. Councilman Jimmy Norred, who openly opposed the budget on Thursday, again voted against the adoption. The budget passed 4-1.

At the end of the meeting, when each council member is given time to make remarks or ask questions for items not on the agenda, Norred again spoke about his opposition to the budget. He told the council members he was disappointed in them for approving the budget despite the expenses added to it last week.

Norred was opposed to a $1,000 increase in training and travel allowance per council member and mayor. He also had opposed a 1 percent raise for employees.

He cited Stankiewicz’s statement on Thursday that the cost of the raises, about $15,000, was less than hiring a new employee if one quits. Norred said Stankiewicz had previously told council members to not use hypothetical scenarios when considering the budget and felt Stankiewicz’s argument was hypocritical.

Norred pledged not to use any of the travel and training funds allocated for him. Calling much of the training unnecessary for veteran members, he said he would pay any expenses if he chose to attend any training.

“We have a lot of citizens on fixed income and they’ve seen a lot of difference in outgoing expenses, but not in income,” Norred said, referring to a recent council decision to increase utility franchise fees by 1 percent, effectively an increase in utility bills.

Stankiewicz defended the training funds decision, saying that it’s something on which a value cannot be placed. Training classes allow members to interact with representatives from other areas and learn from their experience, and continued education is always necessary, he said.

Stankiewicz also said he and City Manager James Woods had already discussed starting the budget process earlier next year to allow more discussion and time for revisions before the June 30 deadline to approve it.

“It’s always a struggle to determine what is the right thing to do when spending tax dollars,” Stankiewicz said. “There’s not always a right answer. … And there will be disagreements, … but those disagreements should be celebrated, not avoided. I think it makes for deeper discussion of the issues.”

Council member Theresa Strickland, however, referred to Norred’s comments as grandstanding.

“Bottom line, this hurts our city,” she said. “We need to handle our business, do what’s right for the city, take emotion out of it and not grandstand.”

Norred reiterated his criticism that council members continually talked about cutting costs during budget meetings, but they didn’t hold to their words. He said that hurt his trust in the council members and makes it harder for him to work with them.

Strickland began to fire back with more accusations of grandstanding, but Stankiewicz then said the discussion had become confrontational and called for the meeting to be dismissed. Council members voted to adjourn, ending the discussion.

In other business Tuesday, council members approved fees for its building services. The city had been contracting with the county building department for permits, but now will handle permits at City Hall with a contract through LaGrange-based Abbott and Associates LLC to conduct building inspections.

The fees are the same as the county’s, said City Clerk Lisa Kelly. However, when contracted with the county, the county kept all the money from the fees. Now the city will get 25 percent and the rest will go to Abbott and Associates.

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By Matthew Strother

mstrother@civitasmedia.com

Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.