The East Ridge City Council met Wednesday morning in a special called session/ budget workshop.
Little was accomplished in terms of the budget, however the council moved to strip City Treasurer Thad Jablonski of his title of Deputy City Manager.
Councilman Larry Sewell read from a sheet of paper as he made a motion to remove Jablonski as the Deputy and make Fire Chief Mike Williams the new Deputy City Manager. Sewell also asked that in the event that Chief Williams steps in as “acting city manager” that he receive a $1,000 per month increase in his salary.
Sewell said that he told Jablonski prior to the meeting that he would propose such a move. Sewell said that he had nothing against Jablonski, but that he felt it necessary for the City Treasurer to focus on the city’s finances and not be strapped with the myriad responsibility of running the city in the event he is elevated to acting city manager.
“(Jablonski’s) just dealing with too much stuff,” Sewell said early Wednesday evening. “He’s been dealing with the (Industrial Development Board) and all the stuff he’s got going, I think he’s overrun.”
When asked why Chief Williams would make a better acting city manager than Jablonski, Sewell said, “He has more experience in the day-to-day operations with the city.”
Jablonski, when reached Wednesday evening, said he had no comment.
During the meeting, Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt questioned if the council could take such action and comply with the City Charter. City Attorney Hal North read the relevant citation in the document. The council installed Chief Williams by a unanimous vote.
City Manager Andrew Hyatt is interviewing for the job of city manager in Neptune Beach, Fla. tomorrow.
“I’ve not spoken to anyone about Hyatt leaving, other than the mayor,” said Gravitt, late Wednesday afternoon. “Is Andrew out? Regardless if he gets the job in Florida, I would hope not. If he’s not successful getting the job in Florida, I would hope the council would give him a contract.”
Gravitt said it was his belief that the pressure of managing the city’s finances and the added pressures of maintaining documents related to the Border Region Act would be too much if Jablonski had to fill the role of City Manager as well.
Discussion of next fiscal year’s budget was limited. What the council did take action on was returning the Parks & Recreation Department budget to the General Fund. During a recent discussion of the budget, Jablonski had taken measures to have Parks & Recreation in a stand alone fund, outside of the General Fund. The idea was for the Parks & Recreation Department figures to be more “transparent” and easier to understand by council and citizens.
The council agreed that Parks & Recreation would never “break even” and that it would continue to have to be “subsidized” by money from the General Fund.
Vice Mayor Gravitt said he thought the park offered “astronomical intangibles” to the city. He said he believed breaking Parks & Recreation out into a separate fund would make it easier to “track how much money is being invested in Camp Jordan.”
Parks & Recreation Director Stump Martin said he didn’t think having the park in a separate fund would make spending any more transparent.
“It puts a target on it,” Martin said. “When you isolate it, it puts it under scrutiny.”
City Manager Hyatt said that if Parks & Recreation stays under the General Fund, revenues it generates could be used in other city departments, for instance to buy a fire truck.
Sewell said he was “undecided” on the issue. “I don’t really know which is the best.”
In the end, the council voted 3-1 with one abstention to keep the park finances under the General Fund. Gravitt was the lone vote to break out the park money into a separate fund, while Sewell abstained from voting.
Councilman Jacky Cagle brought up the issue of possibly putting salary increases into the budget, rather than bringing it up in mid-fiscal year, which has been council’s habit. A one percent raise would amount to about $56,000, two percent, $115,000 and three percent would be $172,000, officials said. Jablonski noted that if the council did pass a salary increase, it would come out of the city’s fund balance, or “rainy day fund.”
Gravitt said that if the council was going to discuss salary increases, he would want to include a review of the city’s leave buy-back program. He asked Jablonski for a spreadsheet on each city position with total compensation, including leave buy-back. He said the city was spending as much as $300,000 a year providing leave buy-back _ writing a check annually to employees at their current pay rate for time on the books not used for vacation. The time is capped at 320 hours.
“It’s not in the numbers to give a raise every year,” Gravitt said. “Plus, we’ve paid out of our reserve fund. We need to be frugal to build that reserve back up.”
The information Gravitt requested concerning total compensation could not be produced immediately, so Mayor Lambert suggested that budget discussions resume at the next council meeting on June 16.
In other action, the council passed a resolution allowing staff to apply for a $10,000 grant for the police department. It also approved accepting a $1,000 Aquatic Stream Cleanup Grant from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to fund the River Rescue this year for Spring Creek.