Annistonians should ask: What is the city getting for that $40K?
Is it getting improved leadership?
Is it getting councilmen better-schooled in the messy art of civic government?
Is it getting councilmen who act like U.S. senators and “bring home the bacon” when they travel to out-of-state conferences?
The answers, sadly, are obvious.
In late September, the council gave a thumbs-up to a 2012 fiscal budget that will guide city spending through next August’s municipal elections. Remember that Anniston’s coffers are slimmer than before, and that the city has several long-term, expensive issues — justice center and police-and-fire pension woes, for example — that need to be paid for.
That the economy is still running with one leg dragging slowly behind can’t be overlooked, either.
Yet, Anniston’s council passed a budget that created concerns instead of squelching them. In this fiscal year, the city will spend nearly $600,000 more than what it is projected to take in, and it will spend more than $217,000 above what it did the year before. The council agreed to an increase of the city manager’s budget of more than $586,000.
We’re not going to nit-pick the decision to give city staffers a 1-percent cost-of-living raise. They deserve it. Allocating an additional $386,000-plus for local nonprofits may assist noteworthy causes, though deep scrutiny is worthwhile, nonetheless.
The head-shaker is the travel-budget increase for the councilmen — councilmen who, in some cases, have historically treated their travel guidelines like the speed limit on Quintard Avenue. They’re optional.
Credit Mayor Gene Robinson for not playing this game. Whether sincere or an easy political point, the mayor’s stance to not use city money for travel is noteworthy, if for no other reason than the plight of the city’s bank account.
Now, instead of having individual travel budgets of $6,000, which they once were, or $5,000, which were reasonable, councilmen have budgets doubled to $10,000. (Is there any way we can assume the worst spenders — particularly Councilman Ben Little — will come in under-budget?) That additional $20K won’t balance the city’s books, but that cash would be more useful elsewhere.
This is a stereotypical example of one of this council’s recurring problems. Its travel-budget decision has two huge components: (a.) It looks horrible, councilmen doubling their travel money while the city struggles to make ends meet, and (b.) it’s indefensible as a need for deficit-budgeting.
There are times when deficit-budgeting is warranted. Taking care of employees. Making contributions to workers’ insurance or pension plans. Paying the bills. Investing in long-term, profitable projects.
But giving four men additional cash so they can travel a little more on the city’s dime?
Anniston hasn’t received a fair dividend from its investment in this council’s three years in office. It is obvious that not much will change in year four, either.