Additional changes to the 2017 budget and the absence of city Auditor Gary Lewis delayed action on Hillsboro’s city budget in spite of a special city council meeting Friday night specifically to approve the document.
All council members, along with Mayor Drew Hastings, gathered at the municipal courtroom Friday night, with a Finance Committee meeting at 5:45 p.m. to make last-minute budget adjustments before a 6 p.m. special council meeting to approve the budget.
But with Lewis absent, and a budget document he left behind that some members said did not reflect changes agreed on at the last Finance Committee meeting, council members agreed the changes could not be formally made and no action could be taken.
Instead, another Finance Committee meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the city building, and another special council meeting will be held either next Thursday or Friday.
Dick Donley, chair of the Finance Committee, said he found out from Lewis’ staff that Lewis was out of the office and would not be back until next Wednesday. He and other council members said Lewis was aware of Friday’s meetings to finalize the budget.
“I didn’t know Gary wasn’t going to be here, and I don’t think anyone else did either,” said Donley.
“He knew about this meeting,” said council member Ann Morris.
During the Finance Committee meeting, Morris said she questioned expending funds for body cameras for the police department, but she said she would not challenge it. The cameras are partially paid for by a grant that was won by the police department.
Donley said he favored the cameras because “the police department put some effort into getting the grant,” and the cameras help document how officers respond to situations.
Another point of contention was a $30,000 line item to pay for the costs of housing prisoners at the Highland County Justice Center.
Morris said she was told that the item was requested in the budget by former Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited, who resigned last week. Hastings said previous expenditures showed that the most the city had ever paid previously was around $2,000. Committee members Donley, Morris and Bill Alexander agreed to reduce that line item to $2,500.
Donley had other budget questions, but said, “Gary’s not here to answer.”
Alexander said, “I wish Gary were here” to answer various budget questions.
Hastings and others wondered about the inmate housing expenditure and why Lewis had not made other changes agreed on at a Finance Committee meeting earlier this week that were not reflected in the revised budget, but the mayor said, “He’s not here to answer why.”
“What he has given doesn’t reflect what we asked for,” said Morris.
Hastings reported that a police officer representing the Fraternal Order of Police in negotiations had offered to reduce a pay increase agreed on between the city and the FOP from 3 percent to 2 percent so the increase would be in line with that being proposed for other city workers. But he said he will await a memorandum of understanding before considering the offer a final agreement.
A voicemail was left on Lewis’ cell phone Friday. He later responded by texting a message saying, “My wife and I had plans to be away this weekend celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. The budget was worked out on Tuesday and the Finance Committee recommended the budget. Nobody asked if I was going to be available this Friday. They scheduled it without asking me. I INFORMED THE CLERK OF COUNCIL THAT I WOULD NOT BE THERE!!! And I did that in writing! There should not have been any problem with passing this until the mayor decided that instead of a 3% raise for the employees, he decided to go with a 2% raise. I revised the appropriation budget and sent it to the clerk of Council.”
Council President Lee Koogler said the budget had to be approved before Jan. 1. He suggested that council could pass the budget in its latest draft and then make changes later, but Donley said he preferred to get it finalized before it was approved. So council members and the mayor began checking their calendars to see when they could meet again before the holidays.
When Koogler called the full council meeting to order following the Finance Committee meeting, he ordered the budget to remain in committee until the Finance Committee could meet again on Tuesday, and said another special meeting of the full council would be held next Thursday or Friday. He said the exact date and time would be announced next week.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.