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As the days pass, Richmond City Councilmen are still wondering where the city’s annual financial audit is.
For the third meeting in a row, the council has tabled an ordinance to make adjustments to the budget because there is no audit.
“We’re starting into the ninth month of this fiscal year and we haven’t even seen the audit yet?” Councilman Jim Dunwoodie questioned. “It’s coming time there’s going to have to be another budget.”
City Finance Director Melanie Allwood has been saying for more than six weeks that she is waiting on Westbrook & Co. PC to complete the audit. She said last night that she believed the audit was in the final report stages.
A heated debated about the budget was spurred when Police Chief Terri McWilliams requested the city hire two additional officers who had just completed the police academy and had been approved by the Police Personnel Board.
McWilliams said the department currently employs 10 full-time offices but has room for 13 in the budget. She said she has written a grant that would pay for three officers for three years, but will not receive notification until September. McWilliams also said in the prior year, the council approved 14 officers but elected not to hire a 14th in order to give raises.
Councilman Mike Wright pointed to the Municipal Complex Fund’s problems and lagging sales tax while Councilwoman Terrie Stanley said it is bad timing.
“You can see all over the nation what is happening,” Stanley said. “We’ve got a lot of things we have to take care of and I just think this is bad timing.”
Mayor Lance Green disagreed and said the budget is in good shape to hire the officers.
“For safety reasons I think it’s absolutely crucial that you go ahead with this,” Green said.
Stanley disagreed and said the department is doing a good job with 10 officers.
McWilliams disagreed and was supported by comments from former Councilwoman Tammy Folvarcik.
“I feel like I have done my part with that. I have not asked for the third position. I have written the grant. I am trying every avenue that I know how to pay for this,” McWilliams said as she pleaded with the council. “I’ve cut in other areas and I haven’t purchased vehicles. I’ve done that on my own.
“I would ask any of you to go to a bar fight on your own with no back up,” she added.
“I don’t know how you can see that they are doing an adequate job unless you’ve been out there and seen what they’re doing,” Green added. “That’s why I listen too. They’re the experts, not me.”
Stanley said she listens to department heads but must make her own judgment.
“But are we supposed to sit here and make our judgment on this or are we supposed to go with what your suggestion is?” Stanley asked. “We are here for the people and there is a big concern out there about the budget. It’s evident we have to tighten our belt. Everybody else has to do it.”
City Administrator Rick Childers took exception to Stanley’s comments about the budget and suggested that councilmen don’t want to hear what city staff is saying.
“I would remind you that we anticipated reduced revenues,” Childers said. “We over projected our expenses. One more time – our budget is in pretty good shape. The council obviously doesn’t want to hear that but it’s true.”
Wright told Childers that it is hard to believe the budget is in good shape when Childers told the council earlier this month that the city was being operated on the half-cent road and transportation tax.
“The money has been spent out of that for other things, so it’s going to be our duty to put that money back in there if and when we find out how much is gone from it,” Wright said. “How can you say our budget is in good shape when you don’t even know how much money is missing?
“The voters voted on a quarter-cent tax to pay for it (new City Hall complex) and now we’re having to use other revenues to pay for it. That’s not what they voted for,” Wright added.
“I can throw a figure out there and that can be my budget,” Stanley said following Wright’s statement. “The bottom line is when we are $4,000 in debt every month over and above the amount that goes here, we are not doing very well.”
Green told the council if they want to make cuts to the budget, they need to give department heads a figure and let them decide where to cut.
Councilman Tom Williams said the public works department was not given that option two years ago when six positions were cut.
“When we cut all of those jobs here two years ago, I don’t think public works wanted to lose any people either,” Williams said.
Childers said he was the one to make the decision and Green added that the council, which Williams was on, was involved in the discussion. Williams disagreed.
“We weren’t allowed to touch public safety for whatever reason,” Williams said. “That was what you all said to us. You said we’re not looking at public safety and they’re off the board as far as cuts go. That’s what you told us. That was your exact words.”
The council tabled the issue for further discussion.