Kingston begins 2014 budget work, considers policies
by Jason Lowrey
Jan 22, 2014 | 1191 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kingston City Council member Harold Posey, left, speaks during the council’s Tuesday work session on the city budget while council member Louise Howell, Mayor Wanda Penson, council member Mike Abernathy and City Clerk Michelle Jones look on. JASON LOWREY/ The Daily Tribune News
Kingston City Council member Harold Posey, left, speaks during the council’s Tuesday work session on the city budget while council member Louise Howell, Mayor Wanda Penson, council member Mike Abernathy and City Clerk Michelle Jones look on. JASON LOWREY/ The Daily Tribune News
For more than 3 1/2 hours Tuesday morning, the Kingston City Council met for a work session dedicated to the city’s 2014 budget, and debated future policies for a variety of issues.

The proposed budget for 2014 is based on the proposed 2013 budget, which was illegally passed without a public hearing during the Nov. 11, 2013, city council meeting. Council member Mike Abernathy started Tuesday’s work session with a question about the 2013 budget, wondering if it had been approved. Council members Louise Howell and Harold Posey said it had been approved.

“We approved it because it didn’t matter,” Posey said.

Abernathy believed it would matter if someone beside the city council looked at the 2013 budget, saying it was filled with errors.

“It was for 2013, this was November 2013, so it don’t matter because that year’s gone,” Mayor Wanda Penson said. “We’re working on 2014 now.”

As they looked at the proposed budget — which predicts $259,569.07 in tax revenues, $3,909.77 in license and permit revenues and $59,970 in charges for service revenues in the general fund for 2014 — Penson asked where the numbers came from.

City Clerk Michelle Jones used the $18,450 in expected motor vehicle title ad valorem tax revenue as an example.

“What I did was I took an average of what we get each month from the county and multiplied it by 12 months and this is what I came up with, so that’s the way I figured it up,” she said. “The intangibles, I took it based on what it looked like we got on a monthly basis, and I multiplied it by 12 to come as close as I could come to. But, like, if you look at the electric franchise tax, that’s exactly what we got in 2013, so I figured in 2014 we should get close to that amount.”

After glancing at the revenues, the council moved on to expenditures in an account-by-account basis. However, they also discussed on the amount of fines coming in from the police department and whether the city should contract out some of its services.

“I don’t have any concerns about these revenue figures. I think they’re probably pretty accurate. Probably the one thing to talk about is that municipal fines and forfeitures,” Posey said.

The proposed 2014 fines and forfeitures account is budgeted at $4,600.

“Unless we start getting some kind of revenue in municipal fines, and I mainly based it off of like probation stuff,” Jones said. “That’s why I put an amount in there. I based it solely on what we can get off of people on probation, but as those people’s sentences expire or they come off of probation, or whatever, that’s going to eventually be down to zero, unless we get revenue coming in.”

Kingston police Chief Gary Bell’s work came back up later in the work session, with Penson saying she did not want the city to turn into a speed trap. Jones said Kingston Police Department could not run radar in the city as the department does not provide around-the-clock service to residents. However, she said Bell could write tickets for driving too fast under conditions. Abernathy said he had spoken to Bell about his job as chief.

“Well, I’m going to tell you all something. I’m going to say this while I’m sitting here. I understand, by talking to Gary, that he’s been told not to write any tickets in this city and that’s why he’s not written a ticket. He’s been giving warnings, and my opinion of that is if they’re breaking the law, we’re going to have to write tickets. If you’re speeding, we’re going to write tickets,” Abernathy said.

“Who had the authority to tell him not to write tickets?” Penson asked.

Posey and Howell said former Mayor Ron Casey told Bell not to write tickets.

“I’m the mayor ... he’s the chief of police,” Penson said. “I can fire him or hire him, but I’m not supposed to tell him who to write a ticket to.”

Penson said she would speak to Bell about writing tickets within the city.

Howell also said Casey had some involvement in reversing water cutoffs.

“That’s what happened with a lot of your water bills not being paid, too. He would say, ‘Don’t make them pay that.’ He would tell them,” she said.

Looking at the city’s services, the council re-approached the idea of contracting out a number of its services except for the water utility. Jones said the plan had been put together while Casey was still in office, and the council had voted in favor of moving to contracted services and had received bids. However, she said the council never returned to the issue and opened the bids.

“Looking at everything ... [Capable Financial] and even [former City Attorney] Peter Olson had said that if the city of Kingston did that, that would be the smartest move that they could make because the garbage is already contracted out. ... If you contracted out the grass cutting, it’s nothing really left besides water leaks. ... When you look at a department, you look at everything, you look at the gas, you look at the supplies ... you look at the vehicle maintenance, you look at the salaries, you look at the insurance especially, the heavy equipment,” she said. “If you contract all that out, then those people are going to have their own stuff, and they’re going to have their own insurance and they’re going to pay their own employees out of whatever city of Kingston paid them, and to me, based on the figures that we got in, it was a lot cheaper and that’s what the city attorney said.”

Penson said she did not agree with the idea of contracting out city services. Posey said he supported the idea, but wanted to see how much it would save the city and if such a plan was workable.

The council continued to work through the proposed 2014 budget line by line. Their changes to the budget included upping the regular employees expenditure in the executive department from $37,884.78 to approximately $57,000. The increase, Jones said, would cover the new position of treasurer and the mayor’s salary of approximately $2,400. The 2012 budget, Jones explained, did not take the treasurer position into account as it did not yet exist.

Other changes included putting approximately $4,200 into the police equipment maintenance budget, increasing the prisoner cost budget for housing prisoners at the Bartow County Jail from zero to $2,000 and budgeting $50,000 for the solid waste contract.

The council stopped at the water department budget summary when they realized two different summaries were included in the budget. One department summary called for a $185,000 transfer from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds into the water department fund, which would create a $107,554.74 increase in net assets. The other summary did not include the transfer, and created a $77,445.26 decrease in net assets. Jones said she would research why the summaries conflicted and determine which was correct. When asked about the water audit, Jones said she planned to have the final data to Williamson and Co. by the end of the week.

Before adjourning, the council scheduled another budget-oriented work session for Monday, Jan. 27, at 9 a.m. at city hall. The council also plans to hold a public hearing on the budget during its Feb. 3 regular work session and again during its Feb. 10 regular meeting.