By Billy Corriher
After the city racked up higher than usual legal fees in the first months of 2004, the Riverdale City Council approved an agreement with Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy for legal services.
The council approved the firm as city attorney in January, but the firm has been operating on a verbal agreement.
The firm has charged the city an average of $236 an hour, leading to a total of $25,945 for 109 hours of work. The city only budgeted $75,000 for the entire year.
Councilman Rick Scoggins voted against the agreement, citing the added financial burden of hiring the firm, which is more expensive than the city's former attorney.
"I don't think the city can afford that type of expenditure on attorney fees," he said.
Scoggins said if the city continued at this rate, it would spend $300,000 a year on legal fees.
But Councilman Kenny Ruffin said that many of the fees were incurred as one-time fees, and some fees were a result of the city attorney having to do some work that will now be done by interim City Manager Sylvester Murray.
"Legal fees are going to drop," he said. "They're high right now, but it was a necessity to keep the city moving."
Murray told the council that the legal fees for March would probably be between $40,000 and $45,000, meaning the council may have to allocate money from the contingency fund to pay the bill. Murray said he would come back to the council next month with a budget revision.
"Hopefully, you'll be in a position then to say ?we're going to stop this now,'" he said.
Scoggins said he thought the council should have a bidding process to evaluate different law firms and their costs. Mayor Phaedra Graham agreed with Scoggins.
"I think that's a good idea," she said. "This expense is way over our heads."
Murray also presented a review of the entire operating budget for this year to the council. The review showed that expenditures for the city are on track to be $1.6 million lower than expected, but that revenues could be on track for a $4 million shortfall.
Murray said the council can look at the budget next month and decide if any adjustments need to be made.
Also on Monday, the council denied a rezoning request for town homes at Church Street and Roberts Drive and a conditional use permit request for a gas station at Ga. Highway 85 and Lamar Hutcheson Parkway.