Leader Blues

Friday, October 24, 2008

TOP STORY > >Cabot to see higher budget in ’09

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams introduced his $8.4 million budget for 2009, up from $7.8 million in 2008, to four of the city’s eight aldermen Thursday night, saying budgets should be tied to a vision for the future.

With that in mind, he proposed setting aside $77,250 for a new fire station, $60,000 for a new fire truck, which will be added to the $60,000 set aside in 2008, and $350,852 to start a city-operated garbage and trash service if bids from the private sector come in next month higher than he thinks residents should pay.

“We cannot let ourselves be at the mercy of garbage collection bidders,” the mayor said. He explained that his proposal could help hold that bidding down.

“We don’t really want to be in the garbage business but we don’t want to pay bigger bills either,” he said.

The proposed budget also includes across the board 4.8 percent pay raises for most employees and an additional $100,000 for the parks, bringing the total to $350,000. That is the same amount the council approved this year to help cover expenses after running the new community center proved to be more costly than anticipated.

Alderman Eddie Cook, chairman of the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission, which helps fund parks, said the council understands the challenges faced by parks. But he said there must be good communication between the city and parks, which is run by an autonomous commission.

Alderman Ed Long agreed, saying he wants to see the budget for parks so he will know how the $350,000 will be spent.

Scandals, including embezzlement by a bookkeeper and non-payment of $200,000 for federal income taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks, kept parks in the news this year and were the reason for an ongoing investigation by the state police.

Larry Tarrant, hired as director in the spring, assured the aldermen that he would keep them in the loop about the parks, but warned that memberships at the community center is down because of the downturn in the economy.

The proposed budget also includes $10,000 to pay part of the estimated $30,000-$40,000 to move the dispatchers at the police station into a more isolated part of the building.

Williams told council members, “It’s a security issue and we may come back and ask for more.”

But Alderman Ed Long said it would be better to put all the money in upfront and then reimburse the general fund if the grants come through that Police Chief Jackie Davis hopes will help pay for the project.

Long praised the animal shelter that has been under new management for much of the year and is also now the headquarters for code enforcement.

Jason Ellerbee, head of animal control and code enforcement, has made many improvements there including assigning cleaning and animal care to community-service workers sentenced to work off fines for misdemeanor offenses.

“We don’t have a dog pound anymore,” Long said. “We have an animal shelter.”

He encouraged those present for the budget meeting to see for themselves. “Go look at it. He’s doing a remarkable job.”