WARNER ROBINS -- Warner Robins taxpayers have not been well-informed of the fiscal 2013 budget, four councilmen said Friday.
I really think the presentation of the budget needs to be more transparent so that all people from all walks of life know theyre playing a role because they are taxpaying citizens, said Councilman Daron Lee.
Lee and Councilman Mike Brashear said they were disappointed in the lack of information provided to residents before and during Thursdays pre-council meeting.
Councilman Mike Davis said since there isnt enough time for a second public hearing, he will recommend at Mondays council meeting that the budget vote be tabled. Councilman Mike Daley said he agreed with the idea.
Im going to recommend that we slow down a little bit, open it up, let the public have an opportunity to speak, Davis said. If that happens, then we can come back with a special meeting before July 1.
City Council must approve the budget by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. Unless the council votes unanimously Monday, the budget requires two readings. The budget -- with a $35.72 million general fund -- is balanced. No tax increase is expected.
Its about as transparent as a cloud, said Alex Talley, a Warner Robins resident who once worked for the city. You could even say a rain cloud. Thats even more dense.
Mayor Chuck Shaheen said Friday that residents need only communicate the best way they can be informed.
The one and only public hearing about the budget was June 4.
Shaheen said last week City Council would publicly discuss the budget for the first time at precouncil Thursday.
At precouncil, Shaheen and council informed the public that they are almost done hashing out the budget. There was not a detailed discussion.
I certainly didnt think that we provided a fair opportunity for our citizens to ask questions, Brashear said Friday.
Shaheen said he changed the process this year to help with transparency. In years past, it was balanced and presented, he said. This year, I brought in two councilmen.
Daley and Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins were the two inside budget discussions but have said they were no more informed about some of the adjustments presented June 4 as the rest of council and the public.
That draft proposed $30,000 for a lobbyist, $43,060 for a media specialist and the needed tools for the job, and raises for two department directors. As of Thursday, the raises were no longer in the budget.
The latest draft also no longer designates the $30,000 solely for a lobbyist. The funds were moved to a professional services line item that totals $85,000, Daley said. City Attorney Jim Elliott typically uses funds from that line item to pay for a variety of contracted services, he said. Anyone hired through that line item would have to come through council, he said.
The media specialist position is a sticking point, Daley said. Some council members dont think its a good idea to add another position to the mayors budget while freezing six positions in other departments.
Robbins said Friday council has wanted to alleviate the city of the turmoil in City Hall in the two years prior to January, when she, Brashear and Davis joined council. Theyve tried to do that and inform this year, she said.
I believe the citizens need to know whats in the budget, what we take out of the budget and how much the budget is, Robbins said. Its their budget.
Lee said mayor and council can talk -- even disagree -- about the budget publicly without discussions turning into a verbal brawl.
Theyre (council) trying to do everything positive in a quiet way, Lee said. In doing that, you keep the taxpayers in the dark. They feel like theyre on the outside looking in.
When asked why they didnt speak up at the precouncil Thursday, Brashear and Lee said they tried.
The mayor cut us off before we could even say anything, Brashear said.
Councilman Paul Shealy could not be reached for comment.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.