The meeting wasn’t bittersweet. It ended with a bitter argument.
The members added expenditures totaling $426,644 and reduced a projected surplus from the 1-cent sales tax to $720,365.
Mayor Gene Robinson was not happy. At the beginning of the meeting, he had urged the councilmen to be frugal.
“All this money that we’re giving to outside agencies, y’all be smart about it; because it’s going to have to come from somewhere and it’s going to come from somewhere and it’s going to be surplus,” Robinson said. “The sales tax, if it doesn’t develop the city, then it was a failure in my mind.”
The proposed budget included $300,000 to allocate to outside agencies, but the requests far outweighed the proposed funding. Many of the agencies were requesting increased contributions to deal with cuts from other sources and increased demand for their services. As the councilmen finished the meeting, allocations exceeded the $300,000 proposed funding by $315,000.
Robinson noted the councilman had spent $315,000 the city didn’t have.
“It’s the people’s money,” Robinson said. “That 1 percent sales tax in the surplus needs to be invested in the city, so we have future money and make money.”
He called the council – three of whom, including himself, Councilman Herbert Palmore and Councilman Ben Little, won’t be returning to their seats in November -- mediocre. Little did not attend the meeting.
Palmore took offense. He said he was proud of his 12 years in office and his accomplishments. He laid the blame for a lack of development in the city on council bickering, saying after one especially bad meeting he wanted to call a psychiatrist to find out what was wrong with the other councilmen.
“I conducted myself where people would want to come to this city,” Palmore said. “Now that’s what you have to face. Our arguing cost us money. Our arguing cost us progress.”
He lost the election, Palmore said, because he had become associated with “a rowdy group.”
The councilmen level-funded many of the organizations and of those that garnered more than last year, just a few received their entire request.
The Public Education Foundation of Anniston, a group which organizes volunteers and fundraisers for Anniston City Schools, requested $100,000, up from the $40,000 it received last year. The councilmen allocated $80,000 to the foundation.
The foundation was one of the lucky ones. The American Red Cross was cut from a $10,000 allocation in 2012 to $5,000 in 2013. It had requested $12,000.
Councilman Jay Jenkins asked the councilmen to give priority to local agencies rather than a national agency such as the Red Cross.
“I think we all know what the Red Cross does and its value to the community, but it’s also a national entity,” Jenkins said. “It has all kinds of opportunities for funding sources.”
But the most heated discussion revolved around Spirit of Anniston. Robinson said he didn’t want to allocate any money to the organization, which is charged with promoting the city’s downtown.
“I’m telling you, after 19 years we do not have nothing but streetscape to show for it,” Robinson said of the city’s investment into Spirit.
The other councilmen did not agree.
“We need that entity,” Palmore said.
Councilman Marcus Dunn, a former member of Spirit’s board of directors, wanted to allocate $80,000 to the organization. So did Palmore. Jenkins suggested $65,000 to get the organization through six months and then let the next council decide. The councilmen eventually allocated $70,000 to Spirit.
Jarrod Simmons, assistant finance director for the city, told the councilmen the budget will be advertised to the public as required by law. It will be ready for the public hearing and approval at the council meeting Sept. 25.