Finance Committee budget review, Sept. 23, 2013

Homewood City CouncilThe Finance Committee —  which must carry on regular business while reviewing and amending the mayor’s proposed 2014 budget– agreed tonight to dip into a $500,000 general fund surplus in this year’s budget to fund longevity pay and bonuses for full-time city employees, at an amount not to exceed $250,000. Finance chairman Walter Jones said bonuses in the amount of roughly $48,000 would be for employees ineligible for longevity pay, which begins at 7 years’ tenure with the city, with the total longevity payout figured at about $186,000. The bonuses would be paid in November following the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Previously, the committee has also agreed to budget for all employees a 2.5% cost of living allowance in either January or March, from a $566,776 carryover fund balance. The committee’s budget work continued into the night on specific personnel issues, including talks to resume later this week about plans to raise library part-time personnel pay up to market level–it is currently as much as $3/hour behind other city libraries.

The committee’s votes and recommendations on all issues, including budget changes, are subject to final ratification by the full city council.

Regular business preceded budget talks tonight, as follows:

Members present:  Walter Jones, chairman, Britt Thames, Jenifer Champ Wallis and Peter Wright. Other council members staying over for the committee’s budget talks were Michael Hallman, Heather Reid, and council president Bruce Limbaugh.

Committee members absent:  Vance Moody

Staff present:  City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city finance director Melody Salter.

Audience attendance:  6

Measures passed by the Finance Committee must go before the full council for approval.

Tabled: Ongoing unresolved issues impeding progress on sidewalks and “pedestrian improvements” for Columbiana Road/Sterrett Avenue.

Carried over for future budget meeting: The committee decided to carry over a request to budget funds for a commercial real estate firm to market empty retail space. Considered by the committee were Retail Strategies, LLC and the Shopping Center Group, which is spearheading a re-branding effort already for North Wildwood properties.  Mr. Thames said Retail Strategies, which has a contract with Vestavia Hills, might have dropped out of contention due to a conflict of interest. There being no proposal, the matter was carried over. 

Approved for the FY2014 budget:  The committee approved the mayor’s request to reduce from two years to one year the tenure required to receive military supplemental pay in case of deployment. If adopted into the final budget it would allow the city to pay any difference between the employee’s regular salary and military pay. There is currently one employee who might be affected.

Approved, with conditions, a contract for a social networking app – With some contract and operational questions still unanswered, the committee agreed to a three-year contract with iCity, a Nashville firm providing communications and citizen networking software for municipalities. Homewood resident Neal Jackson is the representative. The app, downloadable to a smart phone, would allow residents to check a calendar of city events, view maps, learn about city facilities, fees, etc., and also allow two-way communications between the city staff and residents about emergencies, closed streets, crime, and so on.  The city’s IT director, James Yates, asked several questions, specifically if the  “311” emergency notification system would result in false alarms, and could be disabled. Mr. Jackson said it could.  According to the lease, the three-year automatically renewing contract would cost $4,000/year plus an initial $499 fee and $99 to Apple, Inc. for including the product in its App Store. The committee approved it, pending some changes in the contract.

Approved a 5-year ATT Uverse contract renewal, with conditions: Pending a legal review of the contract, the committee agreed to renew a 5-year agreement for Uverse services. 

Set Oct. 7 bid opening dates for the following contracts:  Animal control vendor bid opening is at 5 p.m. followed by a bid opening for wrecker services at 5:15.

Approved bonuses and longevity pay from FY2013 budget:  On the mayor’s recommendation, the committee agreed to include bonus or longevity pay to full-time employees from a general fund surplus. In discussion it was mentioned that $566,000 from  a fund balance carry-over this year would be budgeted to fund a mid-year cost of living allowance for all employees, assuming the funds were available. Mr. Wright said the COLAs would defray the cost of a Retirement Systems of Alabama increase that was being passed on to employees. 

A separate request from Mr. Wright to establish a funding source for COLAs — and avoid yearly debates over providing them — will be taken up in a future budget meeting.

The committee remained in session from 7:30 onward to discuss specific personnel issues.

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