by Danny Wade
With the deadline of July 30, 2022 quickly approaching, cities across the state are approving their fiscal year budgets for 2022-23. Budgets must be in place by July 1, 2022 and filed with the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. Cities that have not approved their budget are scrambling to get them finalized and adopt a budget ordinance.
During the Humboldt Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Monday, June 13, Mayor Marvin Sikes presented Ordinance 2022-03, an ordinance of the city of Humboldt adopting the annual budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 for the city of Humboldt and setting the tax rate of $2.7297 per $100 accessed valuation of property. Before any ordinance is adopted, two readings must be approved at two different board meetings. Monday night would have been the first reading.
Alderman Leon McNeal motioned to approve the ordinance’s first reading, which was seconded by Alderman Monte Johnson. McNeal noted he was glad the city will not have to raise taxes.
Mayor Sikes added that the city did not see a big increase in revenues this past budget year but expects to see more in the upcoming fiscal year with FedEx opening soon, Tyson’s childcare expansion, the new Arby’s being built and two new banks. Sikes said there are more houses being built in Humboldt right now than the city has seen in years. Upwards of 40 new houses and apartments have been built, are being built or plan to be built.
“Whoever has this seat after me is going to have a big cash-cow,” Sikes said of future property taxes. “We do fine with what we’ve got, but there’s little left over. We should be in a better position as we start next year.”
Alderman Shane Lynch had several questions about the budget. One question was regarding $5,500 doors at Humboldt Public Library. Library Director John Blankenship said these were the last doors to be replaced of the building. They will match the other doors.
Lynch had questions regarding the police department’s narcotic fund being used to purchase SkyCop cameras. Police Chief Reynard Buchanan said the city uses these to deter crime and video has been used to solve some of the city’s major crimes. It can also be used in court.
Lynch asked Chief Buchanan about the request for 25 phazer guns. The chief said these are non-lethal weapons and have to be upgraded after so many years of service.
Next, Lynch asked if the proposed 3-percent cost of living raise was for all departments. City treasurer said it is for every city employee, both full-time and part-time.
“We’ve got 8.5-percent inflation and we’re going to give them a 3-percent raise,” Lynch stated. “We might need to raise taxes. If you want better, it costs you more.”
Mayor Sikes replied to Lynch’s comment of raising taxes, saying it would be a decision of the city board.
“No new taxes and no new debt is not always a good thing,” Lynch replied.
Not having a city website where citizens could pay their taxes was another concern. Lynch believes it is time for the city to move forward and would like it to be a budget item.
Mayor Sikes said the city is looking into having a website, but they were not there at this time. He agreed that the city does need a website.
Alderwoman Tammie Porter had budget questions about the police department’s request for three new police cars for $100,000.
“What kind of police cars are you wanting?” she asked Chief Buchanan, thinking that number was high.
Buchanan said the Dodge Durango runs $30,000 to $40,000 and then they have to be outfitted with lights, sirens, radios and other police equipment.
There was more discussion of new vehicles for the fire department, public works, and parks and rec department. City treasurer Kim Hadley said some of the vehicles ordered in last year’s budget have not come in. Sikes noted that those carried over into the next year’s budget but as a new request.
Lynch had another question regarding some of the department not signing their letters. Hadley said the fire department was the only one not to sign.
Lynch asked why, to which Hadley said they were asking for more money for their employees.
Alderwoman Julie Jones-Coleman asked Hadley what he meant by wanting more money. Hadley replied they wanted more than the 3-percent raise and asked for $172,000 salary increase, which would be a 25-percent increase in salaries. He noted a 3-percent raise across the board would be $87,000 total for all city employees.
Jones-Coleman said she had checked around and Humboldt is the lowest paying fire department. Lynch said the same is for the police department too. Jones-Coleman said she would not be in favor of this budget without more pay for the fire department.
McNeal and Humboldt Fire Chief Chester Owens had discussions in the past for fire fighters to get better pay. McNeal had suggested starting at $10 per hour. Chief Owens said the issue he has with this is if a new firefighter is hired at $10 with an increase at six months and another in a year, that firefighter would be making more than some who have worked for two or three years, which in his opinion, is not right.
Hadley suggested there should be a salary schedule for the fire department. He noted that all other departments have a salary schedule with designated raises for time with the department and ranks.
Chief Owens said he spoke with MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) and has a form showing pay scale for the different levels of firefighters.
Hadley agreed with the MTAS document and in the past asked Chief Owens to have MTAS draw up an ordinance to present to the city board since they are the ones who approve salaries.
Hadley said for the past 25 years the department heads, the mayor and himself, as the chief municipal financial officer, meet to come up with the city budget before it is presented to the board for approval.
Lynch read from the city charter that states the board of aldermen are to serve on the budget committee. He said he volunteered to sit on that committee and asked if any of the other board members requested to be on the budget committee.
Hadley agreed that is in the charter, but the city has to follow TCA state codes that trumps a city charter.
“Maybe we need to amend our charter,” Lynch stated.
“It needs amending,” said Mayor Sikes.
Hadley said there are a number of things in the city’s charter that are outdated.
McNeal asked Hadley how the budget is developed. Hadley said the department heads send him their budgets and he plugs in everything they ask for. Then he goes over the revenue side to determine how much the city has to spend. Hadley said this year, the expenditures were $2.4 million over the revenue. Hadley then goes back to the department heads to see what they could do without until the revenue and expenditure numbers get closer.
Hadley said the city has to pass a budget by June 30 and send it to the comptroller’s office or it will be an audit finding. He noted that the city has not had a finding in the past 25 years.
Porter asked Hadley if the comptroller would give the city an extension, to which Hadley said, “no” and it would be a finding.
After more discussion, Lynch said the board needs to get this taken care of.
“Our leadership starts at the top and our chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Lynch added. “Leadership starts with the top down.”
“The top can see the weak links when he looks down—I’m going to leave you with that,” Sikes replied.
“This is not about me or the fire fighters,” Sikes continued. “But is merely a lack of leadership from their department. I strongly ask you to see the entire picture here and not just part of it. I ask you to pass this budget. And with new leadership at the fire department, we will get this worked out. It’s all about leadership. I asked you in January for new leadership and we pushed it over to August. Without leadership, none of this will be settled.”
With tempers getting heated, Jones-Coleman called for question, which ends all discussion and a vote must be held.
Sikes requested for a role call vote, Johnson and McNeal voted for the budget ordinance, and Lynch and Porter voting against. Jones-Coleman said she was for the budget, all except the firefighter pay, then voted no. The ordinance failed 2-3.
McNeal asked Hadley what happens now. Hadley said this was the budget he came up with and that it was now up to the board.
Sikes agreed and said, “We’ll hand her over tonight.”
“So let me get this straight,” McNeal said. “We are not going to get our stuff paid. We’re not going to get our roads paved. No one on this board cares about fixing these neighborhoods.”
Lynch said McNeal was missing the point.
He replied that he was not missing the point and added that the board does not care about Humboldt.
“I want our police department, our fire department and our city workers to get more than 3-percent,” Lynch rebuked. “Three-percent is a slap in the face. They put their life on the line (pointing toward Chief Buchanan), they put their life on the line (pointing toward Chief Owens) and these guys take care of the place (pointing toward the street and parks department heads).”
Lynch said the board could amend the budget.
Hadley said they cannot amend the budget since it was not passed. Hadley said he would turn it over to the board.
With a failed first reading of the budget ordinance, there was no clear path as to when or how the city’s 2022-23 budget would be brought back to the table.