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Jonesboro City Council narrowly approves 2012 budget

Push to delay budget vote fails

Jonesboro’s $2.76 million fiscal year 2012 budget was set Monday by a razor-thin, 4-3 vote of the city council. The approval did not come without criticisms that city leaders rushed through the process.

The budget’s approval came after a bid by Councilmember Joe Compton to postpone the decision by a week failed by a 3-4 vote.

Compton had pushed for the one-week delay to allow councilmembers more time to study the budget, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. He argued that the council had not spent enough time vetting the spending proposal before taking a vote to approve it.

Councilmembers, however, asked only a few questions during a called meeting, and a public hearing, held on separate days last week. Public discussions on the budget, during those two gatherings, lasted a total of approximately 15 minutes.

“We’ve actually sat here this year, and discussed a yard sale ordinance more than we have our budget,” said Compton, referring to a 13-minute discussion the council held Monday night, on a proposed yard sale ordinance, after discussing the same topic at length a week earlier. “I think the council should be a little more involved than that, and have a little more input.”

The council was split along similar lines on the issue of postponing a budget vote, and on approving the proposed budget. Compton and fellow Councilmen Clarence Mann and Roger Grider voted against the budget, which keeps the town’s controversial millage rate at 1.5 mills. Councilmembers Pat Sebo, Wallace Norrington and Bobby Wiggins voted for the budget.

Mayor Luther Maddox then cast the tie-breaking vote, in favor of approving the budget. The budget is fairly similar to, albeit slightly larger than, Jonesboro’s $2.75 million 2011 budget, due mostly to increased sales tax revenue for the city.

Despite the budget’s increased size, there will still be a few cuts, including a $26,205 decrease for administration; a $25,000 cut for site improvements in the city’s public works department; a $16,000 cut for police officer overtime, and an $11,000 reduction for police uniforms.

On the issue of postponing a budget approval vote, the council was split along the same lines, with only Compton, Mann and Grider voting in favor of postponement. Maddox, again, had to cast a tie-breaking vote.

The question that came up more than once, however, was whether councilmembers spent enough time going over the budget before taking a vote on it. Compton, Mann and Grider brought up the point during discussions Monday night.

“I don’t know if any of us really had any input this year,” said Mann, as he offered public support for Compton’s bid to delay a budget vote. “We really haven’t had a whole lot of time to go over it. I just think it might be a good idea to take a few days to look over it again.”

Mann and Grider said time should have been spent to consider requests from incoming Mayor Joy Day to “tweak” the proposed budget, to include some funding for a city newsletter, and renovations to the city’s web site.

Even though Maddox is the mayor proposing the budget, it will be up to Day to operate the city under it.

“The [incoming] mayor did ask us to make some tweaks, and I think she gave us some suggestions, on where we could find the additional revenue,” Grider said. “I think, out of courtesy and respect to her, we ought to take those into consideration.”

Former City Councilmember Billy Powell accused councilmembers, during a public comment period at the meeting, of not making enough of an effort to reduce expenses in the city for the upcoming fiscal year.

“You’re just rubber-stamping what the mayor gave to you from the department heads,” Powell said.

Maddox defended the amount of time allowed for the council to vet the budget, arguing that he distributed copies of it to councilmembers on Dec. 2. During budget discussions, Maddox told councilmembers they had an opportunity to submit recommendations for changes to him.

“I have presented a copy of this budget to each and every one of the councilmembers, and I did not hear any of your suggestions, or anything, after you looked it over,” the mayor told members of the council.

In other action, by a 4-2 vote, the council approved a proposed yard sale ordinance change, to include language that allows citizens to purchase 12 one-day yard sale permits. Sebo and Wiggins voted against the change.