Discussions during Macon City Councils budget hearings got heated Thursday evening when City Council President James Timley and Macon Police Chief Mike Burns argued over the use of the departments confiscated funds.
The funds, which is money used by police for items not listed in the budget, have been a point of contention between Burns and some council members for the past several months. According to Georgia law, the funds are to be used at the discretion of the citys top law enforcement officer, provided the money isnt used for salaries or for anything that has already been budgeted by the city.
During Thursdays session, the issue came up again and things got heated between Timley and Burns to the point that the councils Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Ellington had to bang his gavel several times to restore order.
The budget estimates about $80,000 for fiscal 2013 in confiscated funds for the police department, but as Macons assistant chief administrative officer for budgeting and strategic planning Amanda Deaton noted, its a very rough estimate because theres no way of knowing how much in confiscated funds will come in during the year.
As Timley accused Burns of circumventing the law by using such funds for things like conferences, Burns immediately fired back. As both men spoke at the same time, Timley told Burns, I think youre being very rude and obnoxious.
That goes both ways, Burns replied before Ellington restored order.
Timley called Burns use of funds for such activities as illegal.
They cant be used to supplant things in the budget, Timley said. You cant underhandedly put things in there that council didnt approve. ... Im going to ask the state if something cant be done.
Timleys comments infuriated Burns, who noted that many of the conferences he and his staff attended were ones that council had stopped paying for in previous years. Burns noted the city attorneys office ruled that any use of the funds is up to his discretion, and that Burns sends a letter to the mayors office as a courtesy when he is ready to use those funds.
I resent you saying Ive done anything illegal or underhanded, Burns said. I go by the law.
Things had gotten a little testy earlier in the meeting when Timley questioned several times the $70,000 that has been budgeted for fiscal 2013 for overtime pay, which is given to any officer below the rank of lieutenant if that officer works more than 86 hours per pay period.
Deaton noted that total came to just 2.5 percent of salaries, while Burns told the committee that overtime is used when officers are in the midst of investigations, when they are in the midst of training or qualifying, or when they must testify in court. Burns said all of those activities are necessary, but the department cannot afford to not have those officers work their full shifts even if it means paying overtime.
Wed always like to have more investigators, but since thats not an option, were doing the best we can, said Burns, who noted the department is currently down 15 officers. Im not saying theres more crime, but when we do have a crime, we work it until we solve it. ... Policing is not an 8 to 5 job every day.
The department is seeking a proposed budget of $21 million, up from last years amended budget of $20.4 million. Deaton said many of the extra costs include money for technology upgrades and rising fuel costs.
Earlier, some committee members debated over how much should be spent on the D.A.R.E. program.
Ellington told committee members that research he had found shows the program doesnt always reach its goals; instead, he suggested to Burns that some of the DARE money could be used for other Youth & Intervention programs.
But Burns said the research isnt always conclusive since it cant show how many youths didnt use drugs because of the program. Council members Elaine Lucas and Henry Ficklin both spoke out in support of keeping at least the same level of funding for D.A.R.E.
In other work sessions Thursday:
Macon City Council is seeking an increase of about $200,000 for fiscal 2013. The councils budget would increase from $640,000 in the current year to $838,000 in fiscal 2013. Timley told the committee he is raising the councils travel budget from $1,500 per member to $2,500.
Lucas suggested that the council should have its own public relations position, since the mayors office has one.
The city clerks office is seeking an increase from $162,000 to $175,000, mainly to cover office expenses and technology upgrades.
The hearings continue Wednesday.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.