Editorial: Votes against city budget came as a surprise
The reporter covering the May 2 meeting of Clinton City Council for this newspaper had already written “unan” beside the motion to approve the proposed budget for 2016-2017. “Unan” being shorthand for unanimous. City council votes are recorded by a show of hands – right hands, in fact. And a glance up showed the reporter was premature and wrong. The vote to approve the budget was far from unanimous. It was 4-3 to approve. Other than the three people who voted no – Mayor Bob McLean and Council Members Gary Kuykendall and Jimmy Young – it’s safe to say everyone in the room was shocked. Not shocked because the trio voted against the proposed budget. They have every right to vote either “yes” or “no” on every motion before council. But there had been no indication the three weren’t happy with the proposed document during hours of meetings held to formally present the budget to them and to the public. During a budget workshop, a few questions had been asked. But no one ever expressed a desire to delete any part of the proposed budget or to add anything to the proposed budget or to make any changes at all to the proposed budget. If the response to that is “Why bother? It’s obvious a motion wouldn’t pass” then the same could be asked about a no vote on the motion to approve the budget. None of the three gave any reason during the meeting as to why they voted no. Kuykendall and Young were questioned by reporters before council went into executive session. McLean answered reporters’ questions after the meeting adjourned. Other council members and members of the city’s administration had to ask reporters why the three voted no. Young said he doesn’t think the city should join the Main Street program again. The city had tried that once, he said, and it didn’t work. Joining Main St. is not going to be cheap. The budget includes $101,300 for implementing the Main Street program and hiring a full-time director for Main Street Clinton. The program would be funded by $51,300 from the general fund and $50,000 of joint utility shared revenue. The Main St. program was included in the city’s 2015-2016 budget, but a director was not hired and the city didn’t join the national Main St. program because just after the budget was approved Electric Bills 2015-The Protest happened. Kuykendall said he didn’t think the timing is right to give city employees a 2% cost-of-living raise because the city hasn’t dealt with the electric rates that led to Electric Bills 2015-The Protest. Without making any rate changes, Electric Bills 2016-The Protest is virtually assured. McLean said no action on electric rates is also the reason he voted against the budget. The mayor thinks the city should have already received and acted on the results of a $60,000 rate study contracted for in the fourth quarter of 2015. City council appointed a Rate Reduction Task Force made up of citizens, large utility customers, council members and city officials. The Task Force has yet to meet, another source of frustration for the mayor. While the mayor and two council members have a duty to vote against the budget if they don’t think it’s the best financial plan to meet the city’s goals and objectives for its citizens, we think the things that caused them to vote against the document should have been discussed during open council meetings. Some adjustments could have been made, perhaps, to resolve the issues they raised. But they didn’t do that. Small group budget discussions were held with the city manager, but we weren’t informed of or invited to those meetings, so we don’t know what was discussed. If those meetings were held to “get all the ducks in a row” before the budget was presented and voted on, they failed miserably.