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Aldermen explain budget opposition
from The Concordia Sentinel
March 9, 2017 -

(Concordia Sentinel) — Two of the three Vidalia aldermen who recently voted against Mayor Buz Craft’s revised budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year say the mayor has yet to address all of their questions and has not remedied issues involving overspending.

A third alderman said he voted against the revised budget because the present budget he supported last year was sufficient for this fiscal year.

The three aldermen – Tommy Probst, Tommy Probst and Tron McCoy – cast their votes against the mayor’s revised budget in February.

Last week, the mayor said he would continue to push his 2016-2017 amended budget proposal until the aldermen approve it or “show me a better way.”

Aldermen Robert Gardner and Jon Betts supported the revised budget at the special meeting in February.

Craft said last week that a “‘no’ vote on the amended budget is a ‘yes’ vote for the present one,” which was approved by the previous administration in June 2016.

Craft said his $32.3 million amended budget projects a $300,000 surplus, while the present budget -- $37.2 million – projects a $4.9 million deficit.

But the three aldermen said there is more to the story.

Probst says the town does not have a cooperative endeavor agreement with Recreational District No. 3 in Vidalia, but is providing funding, including salaries, of $219,000 annually.

Since the funding is part of the budget, Probst said it would “be illegal” to support the budget without such an agreement.

Additionally, Probst said he was surprised to receive $650 as an alderman in incentive pay from the town at the end of 2016. He said the town paid out $113,000 in incentive payments to employees and town officials, a practice started by the previous administration.

“I didn’t do anything special to earn this,” Probst said. He said he gave the money back to the town, noting the criteria for such payments as established by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office have not been followed.

Those incentive payments are part of the budget as well, he said.

Probst also said he has concerns over overtime costs.

Dore said the main reason for her voting against the revised budget was that “in almost every department we were going to overspend based on the proposed budget amount, especially in salary and wages.”

She said the general administration budget was overspent by $127,000.

“That’s pretty substantial,” she said.

She said the response from the administration has been that “we’ll underspend in another department and would make up for that in the long-term.”

“That didn’t look good to me,” Dore said. “I didn’t feel those numbers would hold true and until we could show that we would not overspend in each department,” she said she couldn’t support the revised budget proposal.

Secondly, she said that although she did meet with a department head and supervisor that she didn’t get answers to her questions.

Dore said she was told that the street and sanitation budget increases were “due to reclassification of positions.”

“In the utilities department it shows a $903,000 increase in revenue,” Dore said. “I asked where the money was coming from.” She said the question wasn’t answered.

Additionally, she noted, that “while Mayor Craft may believe he did include aldermen” in the budget process, she disagrees.

“He did an excellent job with the department heads,” she said, but did not meet with her one-on-one to discuss the budget.

“I asked him if I could sit and speak to him about my questions,” she said. “He said “yes’ and would check his calendar. It never happened. I personally believe the aldermen are being ignored.”

She said “we don’t know what is going on at city hall. I don’t feel there is an open communication.”

Additionally, Dore said she asked Craft if he would consider alternatives to the budget “but he did not give me an inch. This is no team effort.”

McCoy said that as an alderman during the previous administration, he supported the budget now in place for this fiscal year.

“It’s like the Bible,” he said. “It was good yesterday and today. I voted for the budget eight months ago. Nothing was wrong with the budget then and nothing is wrong with it now.”

He said once “Mayor Craft has a total year to evaluate every department and all the spending, look at ways in which to save and project what we can do, then he’ll be in a position to present a budget based on factual and actual information.”

McCoy said as the board —composed of two incumbents and three new aldermen — becomes more experienced together that issues concerning overtime and bonuses would be worked out.

“But I understand the reality of our workers,” he said. “I support the workers and the people I represent. People are making life and death decisions but are looking at utility bills so high they have to choose between getting their medicine or paying their utilities.”

“We have to look at the big picture,” he said. “You can be surgical with your dollars but don’t hurt the employees or the people.”

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