The Claxton City Council voted unanimously to approve the budget for Fiscal Year 2020 Monday night, despite concerns over the legality and constitutionality of some of their funding. The vote was 6-0 with Mayor Pro Tem Larry Anderson not present.

Council members offered little commentary on the budget ahead of the vote outside of the funding source for a street sweeper.  Mayor Terry Branch, who is also the city administrator, called for a motion on the budget, which was made by Councilman Dean Cameron, and seconded by Scott Lynn. Branch then opened the floor for discussion on the matter.

Points of Contention

Among the funding concerns previously was over the nearly $20,000 in tax dollars the City of Claxton illegally sends to the Chamber each year, in additional in-kind donations for the private organization. You can read more about that here.

Branch presented council members with a sheet titled “Shared Funding With Evans County,”

Mayor Terry Branch

which highlighted a breakdown of the $75,550 the City of Claxton sends to the Claxton-Evans Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority (EDA), the Claxton Evans Co. Airport Authority, and the EMA. The sheet outlines an additional $25,000 “for staff member paid out of the gas fund” for the EDA in additional to the $6,050 that is paid from the General Fund. The sheet does not account for the annual expenses the City pays for the Chamber utilities or the in-kind rent donated to the Chamber of Commerce for free use of the building it shares with the EDA.

Branch told the council that he understands that “the county is looking at making some changes to their contributions to those, however, if we wanted to make any changes, we could approve tonight’s budget and then amend the budget in July.”

But the Evans County Commissioners have not funded the Chamber of Commerce for at least four fiscal years and in their budget proposal process for FY 2020, they initially suggested slashing funding for the EDA entirely and compromised at $15,000 after outcry from EDA board members – a considerable splice from $50,000 in FY 2019.

You can see the sheet below.

Legality of the Budget Passage

In June 2018, the Claxton Council voted to approve the FY 2019 budget in a manner that violated state code in three different ways – including timing, passage mechanism, and publication. City officials ultimately had to re-vote on the budget after the commencement of the fiscal year.

While the FY 2020 budget did have the proper timeline as outlined by OCGA 36-81-5, the latter part of the code section also requires the passage of a budget by ordinance or resolution [see 36-81-5(c)], 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 and FY 2019, meaning the FY 2020 budget was not advertised in accordance.

 

 

 

[Screenshot as of 12:30 P.M. on June 4, 2019]

About the Budget

The total budget for FY 2020 is $5,465,225 with revenues estimated to be $5,477,875. The difference between the two numbers, city officials said, is “unassigned SPLOST revenues.

The General Fund budget for FY 2020 is roughly $218,000 less than FY 2019, but still $511,000 more than FY 2020. The biggest changes include more spending on governing body expenses, animal control, highway and streets, and building inspections.

Departments, funded by the General Fund, seeing a decrease from FY 2019 include financial administration (~$1,000), police (~$100,000), and fire (~$35,000).

The City plans to spend all $1,672.243 in revenues it brings in from the natural gas fund and $1.2 million from the water & sewer fund. Both funds factor in retirement for employees at roughly $40,000 per fund and the EDA staff is paid from the gas fund. Both the water and gas funds have budgeted $6,300 for ‘legal fees,’ though the city has a city attorney on a flat fee.

You can watch the two public hearings as well as the meeting to approve the budget in the videos (in chronological order) below.

May 20, 2019 Council Hearing on Budget # 1

Claxton Council Meeting ….budget hearing and fire chief selection

Posted by All On Georgia – Evans on Monday, May 20, 2019

May 28, 2019 Council Hearing on Budget # 2

Special Called meeting Claxton City Council.

Posted by All On Georgia – Evans on Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 3, 2019 Council Meeting & Vote

Claxton Council Meeting — June 3rd, 2019

Posted by All On Georgia – Evans on Monday, June 3, 2019

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Jessica Szilagyi
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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