West Point City Council passed its 2013 budget Monday night and passed off a decision on how to fund local libraries until next year.
Funding for Hawkes Library in West Point and Bradshaw library in nearby Valley, Ala., had been the main point of contention in a budget that was otherwise no-frills. Council decided Monday to leave $30,000 unallocated in a library fund until a decision can be made.
Mayor Drew Ferguson IV said the city wants to wait to get a legal opinion on whether the city should be sending its money across state lines.
Acting City Attorney Jeff Todd said the city is constrained in how it funds local non-profits, but needs to have a contract for services in place no matter where it’s sending its money.
“The bottom line is, are they offering a service back to you that you’re contractually obligated to provide?” Todd said. He said the city is definitely obligated for library services.
To send money to Bradshaw library, the city needs to prove residents are benefiting from the library in a way they wouldn’t if the city wasn’t giving it funding, he said.
“It would be nice to have an agreement in place about what is being provided,” he said.
Council decided to leave it up to City Manager Ed Moon to come up with the contracts for both libraries and will vote on the funding early next year.
Another proposal to halve the money the city gives to the West Point Development Authority was voted down.
Councilman Joe Downs suggested that since the development authority is set to receive $500,000 from a recent bond agreement with the state, city and county, the city should give just half of its expected allocation of $140,000 and reevaluate the authority in six months when the $500,000 will come into play.
Downs said the bond windfall – which also will benefit the city – was “sort of unexpected,” and there’s an “invisibility cloak” when the authority receives money, since many of the deals remain confidential.
“This will give us a better chance of understanding what’s going to happen with that money,” he said.
But other council members argued for full funding so the authority could remain stable.
“This sounds like a vote of no confidence,” Councilman Jerry Ledbetter said.
Downs and Councilwoman Sandra Thornton voted for halving the money, but Ledbetter, Councilman Ben Wilcox and Councilwomen Gloria Marshall and Judy Wilkinson voted no.
Council did agree to discontinue offering health insurance and retirement benefits for the mayor and council members in a 5-1 vote. Thornton voted no after arguing hard at the last several work sessions to keep the benefits in place.
“I can’t vote for someone’s health insurance to be taken away,” she said. Thornton said she believes the benefits are an incentive for some to run for office.
But Wilcox, who called for the end of the benefits, said that shouldn’t be an incentive.
“We’re not just council members, we’re voters too,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to vote for someone if I knew they were running just for the benefits.”
The change won’t take effect until it’s time for city employees to re-enroll for benefits in July.
The actual budget, with the amendments for council benefits and the library, passed unanimously.