Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TOP STORY > >Cabot council passes budget

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Five of Cabot’s eight city council members braved the icy roads Monday night to pass the mayor’s $8.4 million budget for 2009 — $600,000 more than this year — complete with 2.3 percent cost-of-living raises for themselves and a more substantial 4.8 percent raise for the city attorney, whose salary fell below the middle range in a survey of 16 cities similar to Cabot.

Among those who attended was Alderman Tom Armstrong, who is recovering from a brain tumor. Armstrong defeated former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh who ran against him while Armstrong was being treated for the cancer in Florida. The meeting was
Armstrong’s first since he was diagnosed in the summer.

Alderman Becky Lemaster, who opposed the raises, did not attend. Also absent were Teri Miessner, who had a death in the family, and Virgil Teague, who suffered a stroke in mid-2007 and now lives in the nursing home down the street from city hall. None of the three who were absent will be on the council in 2009. Lemaster and Miessner were defeated and Teague did not run.

Cabot’s budgets are ordinances which generally require three readings during three different meetings to pass. To get around that technicality and pass ordinan-ces at a single meeting, city councils commonly suspend the rule with a two-thirds majority vote, meaning six members are needed to vote.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and the five members present briefly considered adjourning the meeting and reconvening at the nursing home so Teague could supply the sixth vote needed to pass the budget ordinance. But City Clerk Marva Verkler said she believed that since the budget ordinance is not of a permanent nature because it will automatically be rescinded at the end of 2009, it didn’t need to be read three times.

Taylor, who says he always takes a municipal code book with him to meetings because it’s impossible to remember everything, found the law Verkler had referenced and the budget passed with only one reading.

The mayor, who talked to this reporter by phone after the meeting, said he was very pleased that so many of the city’s aldermen were willing to make the effort to get the budget passed before the end of the year.

The $8.4 million budget for 2009 is an increase of $600,000 over 2008. It includes $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 that will be opened Saturday are higher than the mayor thinks the residents should have to pay.

It also includes $350,000 for parks, up $100,000 from the budgeted amount for 2008. Although only $250,000 was budgeted for parks this year, the city council actually approved paying an additional $300,000.

Of that amount, $100,000 was used to help run parks and $200,000 had to be paid to the Internal Revenue Service for the parks department after money for federal income taxes was withheld from employees’ paychecks but not sent to the IRS.

City Attorney Jim Taylor has been working with the IRS to put the matter to rest. The parks department, which is run by an autonomous commission, is under investigation by the Arkansas State Police.