February 21, 2014 11:25:31 AM
Starkville aldermen approved shrinking its seven-person budget and audit committee to three board members, thereby easing schedule restraints and beginning long-range planning initiatives, but at least two aldermen say they feel left out of the process guiding the city's approximately $18 million budget.
In July, the board formed its budget and audit committee with all seven aldermen, but Tuesday's move trims the group back to pre-election numbers. Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard will continue serving as the committee chair and be joined by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn.
Maynard, whose motion re-formed the group into its current state, was approved 5-2, with Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker opposing.
Reverting to the previously used city structure, Maynard said, avoids conflicts that develop when trying to coordinate the schedules of seven people. Also, special-call notices are required whenever four or more aldermen gather together for an unadvertised meeting, but the city regularly announces its budget committee meetings well in advance, opening the door for non-members to observe the proceedings.
Whether the budget committee is comprised of three aldermen or the entire seven-person Starkville Board of Aldermen, fiscal year budgets and any financial adjustments must be approved during regular board meetings.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker opposed the matter Tuesday, with Walker asking how board members were selected for the audit committee.
"I think the committee of the whole might have been messy at the first go-around, but it's a good opportunity to have everyone's voice heard at those meetings," Walker said before Tuesday's vote. "I'm in favor of continuing (with the seven-person structure)."
"The budget and audit committee has a lot of power; it steers the $16 million fiscal ship for the next year. I've never been in favor of the three-person committee," Carver said Thursday. "To claim the committee as a whole slows things down isn't true. It would slow things down if the budget gets voted down since it then gets sent back to committee. I say we get everyone in a room together to hammer this thing out right the first time."
Maynard said he favored keeping the group at three members but was not opposed to rotating aldermen after meetings. Perkins and Wynn expressed interest in serving on the committee before the meeting, he said.
"I think with seven it's just very difficult to get everybody together at a specific time," he said. "It's a matter of efficiency, really. Trying to get seven people who have full-time jobs and family on the same schedule for any length of time is difficult.
"This will also allow the city to get started (working on its upcoming budget) much earlier than it has in the past. As we meet with department heads, we need to see where they are now, their future needs and any areas we can improve in, and I propose doing that on recess (aldermen) meeting nights," Maynard added. "The bottom line: This committee can absolutely make no final decisions, as the budget still has to be approved later on. I think, for the most part, everyone is comfortable with this."
One of the most significant budget challenges Starkville faces is addressing its aging infrastructure, Maynard said.
"Storm-water drainage and sewer, those are huge items coming up for us. We have to put our water and sewer lines on an upgrade plan so we don't get into a position where we're having to be reactive and replace them because they're bursting or leaking," he said. "If we can tie all of that into a long-range improvement plan that has logic to it, that will help us on the budget side since you can plan out multiple years ahead and anticipate expenses. For example, it's important that we make sure our water and street departments are all on the same page and looking ahead at the same items. We don't want to overlay a road and turn around six months later to dig it up to replace water lines."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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