Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

TOP STORY > >Beebe approves $3.4M budget

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The Beebe City Council met in special session Monday night to pass an ordinance for the $3.4 million city budget approved by a voice vote in November.

The budget is about $400,000 more than the 2008 budget and contains 3 percent raises for most city employees and larger raises for the city clerk and some top police officers. But the mayor turned down any increase in pay.

The special meeting was necessary so the raises could be included in the first paychecks of the year.

Alderman Les Cossey recommended increasing Mayor Mike Robertson’s pay from $25,000 to $30,000, but the mayor said “no.”

“Maybe next time,” Robertson said. “I have another job, but the rest of (the raises) I think are justified.”

The police department has changed drastically since 2007 when Robertson fired Chief Don Inns for a host of alleged improprieties and illegal activities most of which could not be proven by an Arkansas State Police investigation. However Inns will go to court in February for the misdemeanor offense of cashing a $150 rebate check made out to the city.

Throughout 2007, the mayor and city council weeded out the police officers described by one alderman as “young smart alecks” and replaced them with older, more experienced officers who were paid more than their predecessors.

Now, the mayor says the salaries for the top three police officers should be larger because they work long hours without overtime pay. The council agreed and increased Ballew’s salary from $33,580 to $39,500. Assistant Chief Ron Lewis’ salary was increased from $30,853 to $36,000 and Eddie Cullum’s salary was increased from $28,012 to $30,000. Cullum is the head of investigations.

The salary for Carol Crump-Westergren, the city clerk-treasurer, was increased from $31,129 to $34,500 and Milton McCullar’s salary was increased from $25,708 to $28,000. McCullar is head of the street department.

In other business, the council approved an ordinance taking away council members’ city medical insurance and giving them monthly paychecks of $748, essentially the amount the insurance costs.

For many years, council members have been given the choice of taking the insurance or the money and many took the money.

The mayor said the state auditor recommended the change.

“This is no different from what’s been done for 20 years. It will actually be a benefit to the city,” Robertson said, adding that with fewer people on the city’s insurance plan, claims will go down and that could lower the premium.

The council also approved an ordinance setting a $250 fee for rezoning requests and an ordinance that will allow employees to sell to the city all but five days of their annual vacations.

The mayor said the new fee will cover the city’s cost for advertising. If a rezoning request is not approved, $200 of the fee would be refunded.

The council discussed but took no action on a proposal to pay the American Legion $350 to $400 a month for rent on the building the city uses as a library. Many years ago, the city took possession of the building for $1 a year. The defunct American Legion didn’t need it. But the organization is back and working with veterans and needs money to pay rent on a building on Beech Street.

A $1 lease is not fair to the organization, the mayor said.