Councilman Jay Jenkins and Councilwoman Millie Harris both voted ‘no’ on the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1, citing concerns about the school system’s fiscal responsibility. Mayor Vaughn Stewart and councilmen Seyram Selase and David Reddick approved the budget.
“Money is not the solution to the problem with Anniston City Schools,” Jenkins said. “Providing additional funding, even with the accountability strings attached, simply states we as a council are willing to ignore the 500-pound gorilla in the room that is consolidation as a method of fiscal responsibility. I am not OK with that, and I cannot support this.”
“It’s not that we don’t support education,” Harris added. “We absolutely cannot ignore education to address crime, economic development — it’s all connected.”
The $100,000 was added by the council earlier this month to an initial $400,000 that a city staff-prepared budget had already included for schools. The extra money came with the stipulation that the total amount be used as an innovation fund from which to pay for specific programs to improve education. Mayor Vaughn Stewart noted that no money has actually been spent from that fund.
“I think we have to draw the distinction between funding and appropriation,” Stewart said after the meeting.
Harris said she felt the council should follow the recommendations of city staff in terms of what the city can afford, noting that it faces some major costs for infrastructure repairs to ensure residents’ safety.
In the same budget work session where the council added the $100,000 for schools, it also agreed to keep The Hill golf course and Carver Pool open and give city employees a 1 percent cost of living increase. To cover the approximately $319,000 difference in the proposed budget and the council’s recommended budget, nearly $200,000 to pay for the city’s share of the cost of road paving projects was pulled out of the budget to be paid from the Alabama Trust Fund for capital improvement.
Jenkins cited Anniston’s higher rate of per-pupil spending compared with neighboring districts as part of the justification for school consolidation. Councilman David Reddick pointed out that about 90 percent of Anniston’s students qualify for free and reduced lunches, which qualifies the school for increased funding.
Councilman Seyram Selase said he is comfortable with the size of the innovation fund and the council’s plan to fund specific programs.
But he reminded the council and public that the members of the Board of Education are elected officials, and the city’s hands are tied about how they spend their money.
“Until there is an outcry from the community whether there should or should not be more fiscal responsibility, then our voices are falling on deaf ears,” Selase said.
In other business, the council:
— Approved two new loading zones, one on the east side of Noble Street between 12th and 13 streets and one on the east side of the alley between Quintard and Leighton avenues south of 10th Street.
— Considered on first reading an ordinance prohibiting the tethering of unattended animals except when under the care of a licensed veterinarian or participating in a show or other judged event. Mayor Stewart suggested the council members schedule a work session on the proposal next week.
— Appointed Linda Jenkins of Ward 4 to the Calhoun–Cleburne Mental Health Board with term ending May 31, 2018.
— Reappointed Greg Kernion and Timothy Kerper, both of Ward 4, to the Zoning Board of Adjustments, with terms ending in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
— Reappointed Evelyn Palomba of Ward 1 and Harold Street of Ward 3 as alternates to the Zoning Board of Adjustments with terms ending in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
— Authorized an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for $75,000 to acquire property for the Chief Ladiga Trail.
— Approved a tax abatement of $26,956 per year for McWane Inc. doing business as Tyler Union. A one-time sales and use tax abatement on the company’s $8.6 million capital investment will amount to $42,924.
— Approved a resolution supporting the McClellan Area Regional Development Compact, which combines local governments and institutions to provide resources for improving infrastructure and promoting growth at McClellan.
— Amended the fiscal year 2013 budget by $652,000 to reflect fewer expenditures than were budgeted.
— Reimbursed Bersheba Austin $162.06 for expenses incurred while traveling to the Alabama Association of Public Personnel Administrators Board meeting in Montgomery.
— Reduced the speed limit on McCall Drive between Johnston Drive and Johnston Court from 30 mph to 15 mph.
— Authorized the removal of traffic signals at the intersection of 12th Street with Clydesdale, Cobb and Crawford avenues and the intersection of 11th Street with Clydesdale and Stephens avenues.
— Approved a slate of stop signs to be installed at intersections throughout the city.
— Approved the removal of stop signs along Wilmer and Gurnee avenues.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.