Council approves hiring freeze

 City leaders approved a hiring freeze Tuesday to better manage spending until they can pass a 2018 budget.

Under the freeze, any new hires must get prior approval from the Piedmont City Council instead of being decided by the mayor and department heads. The goal is to reduce spending until the council has passed its long-delayed 2018 fiscal year budget and understands where all the city’s money is going.

The council approved the hiring freeze during its regular Tuesday meeting on Councilman Bobby Hardin’s motion.  

Hardin said Mayor Bill Baker had asked in a previous meeting for help from the council on spending.

“I think it’s a start in the right direction until we get a budget passed,” Hardin said of the hiring freeze.

The city has been tight on money for years, mainly because of declining tax revenue. The city’s 2018 fiscal year started in October, but despite multiple meetings on the subject, the council hasn’t passed a budget on how it wants the city to spend its money for the year.

According to state law, smaller cities the size of Piedmont aren’t required to have annual budgets.

The hiring freeze was contingent on the council getting to approve hires on a case by case basis. The city currently has around 106 employees.

“We’ve done hiring freezes in the past and I know this is an effort by the council to make some moves in stretching our money and meeting our needs,” Baker said. “I’m fine with it as long as we can come back and take a look at hires on a case-by-case basis.”

After the hiring freeze vote, the council scheduled a meeting for Jan. 9 to hash out a budget.

Also during the meeting, the council tried and failed twice to approve an end-of-the-year incentive for city employees.

The first vote, which ended in a tie and so didn’t pass, would have given employees a half day off Friday so they could start their Christmas vacation early. The second vote, which also ended in a tie, would have given employees an extra personal day to use at their leisure.

Councilman Ben Keller first mentioned the idea of an incentive at the last meeting. He wanted the council to give employees an end of the year-type bonus, based on years worked, that would have cost the city $13,210 total.

Some council members said there wasn’t enough extra money to spend on employees.

“I’d love to give them something, but because of the financial position previous councils have put us in, we can’t,” Councilman Doug Dickeson said.

Baker said he wanted the city employees to get at least an extra day off.

“These guys work extremely hard,” Baker said. “I wish something would have passed … I wish we had extra money to give them.”

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.