Raises for fire chief, RDA director eliminated from proposed Warner Robins budget

chwright@macon.comJune 14, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Though it wasn’t discussed at Thursday’s precouncil meeting, raises for two city officials have been eliminated from the proposed Warner Robins budget, according to the latest draft summary of the document.

The expected first public discussion of the Warner Robins fiscal 2013 budget was a short, undetailed explanation that the budget is somewhere between 98 percent to 99.99 percent hashed out between mayor and council.

“I didn’t hear a discussion,” said Henrietta McIntyre, a Warner Robins resident and former mayor. “That’s no way to do it.”

Proposed raises for fire department Chief Robert Singletary and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee were eliminated, according to the latest draft of the budget. Funds for a public relations position, $43,060, still remain. The $30,000 originally slated for a contracted lobbyist is now only designated for “professional services.”

Mayor Chuck Shaheen and council are expected to vote on the budget Monday and will need to hold a special called meeting for a second vote unless they unanimously decide to waive a second reading. The budget, which is currently balanced, must be approved by July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

The total proposed Warner Robins budget is $71.22 million, which includes $35.72 million in the general fund.

City Council was handed a draft with additions and cuts June 4 just before the regular council meeting, during which a public hearing was held. No discussion was had. Shaheen promised at a news conference last week that a public discussion would occur at Thursday’s precouncil meeting.

During the meeting, mayor and council handed out summary sheets of the changes from the June 4 draft to the latest draft. Shaheen congratulated department heads for helping not raise taxes, Councilman Daron Lee asked that next year’s budget be easier to read, and Shaheen asked Councilmen Paul Shealy and Mike Davis to come to his office Friday for further discussion.

A resident tried to ask for a bit of detail on the changes.

“This is not a public hearing,” Shaheen said, inviting the resident to speak with him privately. “We had a public hearing last week.”

Then, council went on to its next agenda item.

Shaheen declined to comment after the meeting about the previously suggested raises for Lee and Singletary, which would have cost the city $17,000 and $10,765, respectively, in salary and benefits.

“I’m not going to talk about personnel matters,” he said.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said after the meeting a raise for Singletary was not recommended in the Carl Vinson Institute payroll study City Council approved in April.

Robbins said she and other council members want a point of contact for economic development -- the added duty Shaheen said was behind Lee’s proposed raise -- but will explore other options.

“After I started looking at it, we can’t mix economic development and the RDA,” she said.

Shaheen also declined to talk about the $30,000 that was once meant specifically for a lobbyist.

Robbins said she and other council members suggested Shaheen place the money in a professional services line item to be used for a grant writer, lobbyist or any other needed service.

Shaheen spoke at length after the meeting about the need for a media specialist. He said the $43,060 is not just for the salary of a person who would help distribute city news to the media and manage the city’s online presence. It also includes needed technology for the job, such as an iPhone, he said.

“That’s the whole budget” for the position, Shaheen said.

Robbins said the media specialist is part of the remaining items council members need to discuss with Shaheen.

Councilman Mike Brashear said he is settled on the media position but wants to talk more about funds for the 21st Century Partnership and the Bureau of Community Affairs, which is slated for a $15,000 cut from fiscal 2012.

Brashear explained that a $10,000 cut to the 21st Century Partnership is not to the organization’s 2012 budget but to the May 21 draft. The group is proposed to receive the same $35,000 it did last year until mayor and council can understand why the group asked for more this year, he said.

Adjustments from the June 4 draft include an additional $8,995 for City Marshall William Wood, whom council approved a raise for in April for taking on code enforcement duties. The adjustments also include an additional $11,627 for an error in the previous draft for E911 allocations.

All of the suggested cuts from the June 4 draft remain in the latest draft. Additional cuts to the previous draft include $61,000 from the police budget and $26,913 of public works equipment, which appears to be in exchange for unfreezing a ground maintenance position. The draft still includes six other frozen positions throughout the city.

Robbins said council is attempting to balance and discuss the budget without “putting everything in the news, negative or positive.” She directed residents to the budget online.

McIntyre and Alex Talley, a Warner Robins resident who once worked for the city, said the way the Warner Robins budget is drafted is unclear, and this year’s process with no public discussions about the details makes it impossible for residents to know where their tax dollars are going.

“The average person on the street could never figure it out,” she said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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