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City of Claxton Violated State Law During Budget Approval Process

A review of state law regulating the budgetary process of local governments indicates that the City of Claxton violated at least one subsection of the state law in approving the FY 2019 budget.

OCGA 36-81-5(f) reads that “At least one week prior to the meeting of the governing authority at which adoption of the budget ordinance or resolution will be considered, the governing authority shall conduct a public hearing, at which time any persons wishing to be heard on the budget may appear.” The use of the word “shall” indicates that the hearing must take place at least one week ahead of the adoption. View the code section.

The City of Claxton hosted the public hearing for the FY 2019 budget at 5:30 P.M. on June 18, 2018 and promptly adopted the budget at the 6:00 P.M council meeting on the same date.

The stipulation is in Georgia code not once, but twice. OCGA 36-81-6 reiterates that the hearing and the adoption cannot occur on the same date, as the code section reads: “(a)  On a date after the conclusion of the hearing required in subsection (f) of Code Section 36-81-5, the governing authority shall adopt a budget ordinance or resolution making appropriations in such sums as the governing authority may deem sufficient, whether greater or less than the sums presented in the proposed budget. The budget ordinance or resolution shall be adopted at a public meeting which shall be advertised in accordance with the procedures set forth in subsection (e) of Code Section 36-81-5 at least one week prior to the meeting.”

The latter code section also requires the passage of a budget by ordinance or resolution, but the Council made no mention of either nor was a resolution or ordinance provided in the media packet during the time of adoption.

As far as publications of the budget go, the City failed to update the official website with the most recent year’s budget. The document on the website still reflects the FY 2018 budget.

The FY 2018 budget as it appears on the city website as of June 22, 2018.

Both the outgoing City Administrator, Carter Crawford, and the City Attorney, Bill Callaway, were present for the council meeting when the budget was adopted. Crawford was present for the public hearing as well.

A budget schedule provided in the early spring indicates the plan from the beginning was to conduct the hearing and the adoption on the same date. The document, prepared by Crawford, is below.

The shows that the budget hearing and were tentatively set for June 18 and that decision to have both on the same date was made at the Council Meeting in June 4. City officials confirmed Friday that the the 5:30 P.M. hearing was the only public hearing during the budget process.

Some have asked if the Council could simply have another meeting and “re-vote” on the budget since the public hearing was already held on June 18, however, the advertisement placed in the legal organ was incorrect and therefore cannot be submitted in conjunction with a budget adopted at another time. The City of Claxton, in order to be in compliance with state law, would need to readvertise the public hearing which would need to take place at least one week ahead of the official adoption.

The new fiscal year for the city begins July 1, which means any action taken at this point would require the adoption after the start of the new fiscal year.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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