For most people, balancing household accounts proves difficult enough. For the members of the Fayetteville City Council and the city staff, the budget process is a lot like an obstacle course. The process, which begins months before it’s ready for prime time requires the council to project an outcome and the staff to pull off quite a balancing act to present a balanced budget that meets not only the requirements of the council but the needs of the staff.
    On Wednesday, May 21, staff and council came together in one of the final budget meetings to hash out differences and come to terms on questions the staff had on the proposed budget. One of the questions that garnered a lot of discussion in the meeting was the request for an additional attorney in the city’s legal department. Karen McDonald, the city attorney, made the request during her annual review. At that time, there appeared to be a consensus among the council to approve the request. Several council members were surprised when the request was cut from the budget.
    Councilman Ted Mohn questioned the cut during budget discussions. Mohn sent a question concerning the cut to City Manager Dale Iman prior to the meeting. Iman explained that the request for the new attorney fell under the heading of “new initiative.” He explained that when the staff put the proposed budget together they came up with $140 million in request and only $134 million in revenues. That shortfall caused the staff to take a very hard look at all requests made by departments.
    In explaining the budgeting process, Iman explained that the council sets the directions with its strategic plan. He said once that is established, he and members of the city’s staff, hold hearings with each department head and their staff to hear their needs. Adding that each request in the budget is looked at closely, particularly those requests for new initiatives and positions. “When it came to new positions and programs, we looked at them very closely,” said Iman, “and unless they paid for themselves or were needed services, we were unable to fund them. That happens all too often in municipal budgets.”
    While Mohn said he understood the process, he felt that the council was behind the hiring of the new position. Val Applewhite joined Mohn in lobbying for the position. Applewhite asked McDonald whether she still needed the position and if it was in the best interest of the city.
    “From my perspective, I feel that we need the position, but it’s a matter of resources and getting in line with the need,” she said. {mosimage}
    Applewhite questioned whether or not the city could cut the amount of money the city has allocated for outside council — some $300,000 — to pay for the new attorney. McDonald said the outside council was used to retain outside council to help her office deal with lawsuits against the city that arise throughout the year. She said her office does a good job of keeping the city out of trouble, but that a number of lawsuits have arisen over the past year, including three last week. McDonald said that each of the attorneys in her office is assigned to number of departments. She said that that reflects some staffing issues when compared to other municipalities. McDonald said she understands the budgeting process and that her staff will work hard to meet the needs of the city.
    Mayor Tony Chavonne asked Iman and his staff to take a look at the budget, and the performance of the attorney’s office in six months to determine whether or not an additional attorney could be hired.
    One new initiative that was funded was the hiring of a downtown development manager. The new position was funded at more than $80,000, with $75,076 allocated for the employee’s salary and an additional $6,484 funded for supplies and equipment needed for the position.
    Applewhite noted that the hiring of a legal representative seemed more important than this position, noting that it had obviously been handled in the past.
    Iman explained that the individual hired in this position would handle all facets of downtown business and growth. He noted that with the number of people and businesses coming down, more and more issues are coming up. Downtown development previously fell under the auspices of the Cumberland County Business Council. Pulling this element from the CCBC allowed the council to add workforce development into their contract with the CCBC.
    Iman noted that in many instances city staff tries to do something positive in the downtown area, and the downtown merchants perceive it in a negative way. He feels that having this go to person will allow the city to build a stronger relationship and do more positive things in the downtown area.
    Applewhite countered. “We have gotten ourselves in some legal situations over the past years, and that makes the addition to the legal staff important. We seem to keep doing a lot for downtown — but there’s more to life in Fayetteville than downtown.”

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