Mayor breaks tie to approve budget for Town of Pulaski

In likely one of his final official acts as mayor, Nick Glenn broke a 3-3 tie Tuesday evening, siding with half of Pulaski Town Council to approve a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Glenn was joined in voting for passage of the budget resolution by councilmen Jamie Radcliffe and Lane Penn and Vice Mayor Greg East. Councilmen Joseph Goodman, H.M. Kidd and soon-to-be mayor Dave Clark voted against the resolution.

The vote brought to an end a tumultuous month among council and town staff over the budget, which prior to council’s June 5 legislative session appeared on a smooth path to approval.

At that time, the proposed budget was balanced with no tax increases.

However, East, Radcliffe and Penn made it clear they would not support a budget that proposed increased spending by the town. While the spending increase in the proposed budget was small at only $46,000, they contended the proposed budget was continuing an annual trend of increased spending that could not be sustained.

East argued that the town’s expenses had outpaced revenues from 2016 to the 2019 proposal by some $250,000.

At the end of that June 5 meeting, in an effort to stop the trend, East proposed Town Manager Shawn Utt bring to council an alternative budget with 1.5 percent across the board spending cuts (about $148,000). That motion succeeded, again with Glenn breaking the tie.

A week later, Utt responded with a new budget that was actually 1.6 percent ($160,000) smaller, and included the elimination in six months of the town’s Parks and Facilities Department.

While those on council who sought cuts found favor with the new budget proposal, the elimination of Parks and Facilities caused concern on the part of others who feared the move could have a detrimental impact on the town’s parks. Some citizens also expressed concern for the department’s longtime head, Dave Hart.

With a June 30 deadline for budget approval looming, council scheduled Tuesday’s meeting for approval of the budget and to allow one final round of public comment.

While council hosted a room full of citizens at the meeting – including a number of town employees – only two citizens addressed council.

Dr. Paige Cash told council that she knows how budgets work, being a member of the Pulaski County School Board. “I know how hard it is to balance a budget and still get things done,” she said.

Cash said she has real concern about eliminating the person in charge of taking care of the parks.

“I don’t know how the new structure [for taking care of parks] is going to work, but without the person in charge things tend to fall apart,” Cash said, noting that, “We’ve seen this in the schools when we had empty positions. We had to work extra hard to keep quality up. I’m worried that’s going to happen here.”

She said with the county doing so well, with a new middle school coming and a balance budget being approved by the Board of Supervisors, she would hate to see the town’s parks fall into disrepair.

“I’m worried about who is going to oversee them,” Cash said.

Laura Goodman told council there is “good and bad” in the budget.

“Employees are important, and I’m glad to see raises in there,” she said, adding she knew financially the budget was a challenge.

“We need to remember our longtime employees need to know they are valued,” Goodman stressed.

“We need to also remember the town is not a business,” Goodman said. “We need to be financially responsible, but we need to remember that not all value is monetary, and these parks and individuals have more value than just the numbers. This is a community, not a business.”

No one else spoke and council vote to approve the budget, 4-3.

The budget for 2018-19 totals $19.5 million with $9.8 million in the General Fund, $3.7 million in the Water Fund and $6 million in the Sewer Fund.

Council also, on a 6-0 vote approved a five-year Capital Improvements Plan.

An organizational meeting is next on council’s agenda, scheduled for July 3 at 7 p.m. when Clark will take over as mayor and two new councilmembers – Brooks Dawson and Tyler Clontz – are seated.

Council’s work session was re-scheduled for July from the 17th to the 24th, and a “Fifth Tuesday” departmental review of the budget is set for July 31 at 6 p.m., which will informally begin the work of building the 2019-20 budget.