Highfill pays unbudgeted bills
HIGHFILL — It was clear at the Sept. 12 council meeting that council members were not pleased about the need to take money out of the city’s general savings to pay for unbudgeted expenditures of the Highfill Police Department, and the council balked at giving the mayor permission to authorize departments to exceed budget line items so long as the departments do not exceed their total budgets.
With no old business and no new business, Stacy Digby, Highfill’s mayor, gave his report and requested the council authorize him to take money from the city’s general savings to pay police department bills for modifications to three military rifles so they could be used by the police department and for rebuilding, updating and expanding the police department’s servers. Digby said the city had bills for $1,080.50 for the modifications to the three military rifles and approximately $3,000 for the work on police department servers. Digby said he authorized the needed work on the servers, thinking the police department had money in its budget to cover the expense but it didn’t.
Digby said the city had the bills for the work which the police department could not pay from its budget and the bills need to be paid.
Though council members were slow to make a motion on the matter, Councilman Roger Hill said, “We’ve got to pay it.”
When the vote was taken, it narrowly passed, with Digby casting a vote to make a majority since Toby Lester was absent. David Williamson and Mark White opposed the measure. Hill, Michelle Reiff and Wesley Evans voted in favor of it.
Then, when Digby asked the council to authorize department heads to be allowed to exceed spending in line items so long as they do not exceed their total
budgets, council members balked and finally tabled the request, asking that it be added to the old business at the October meeting.
Digby said he feared that council members trusted some department heads more than others, and Rieff said she resented the remark and said her hesitancy had nothing to do with trusting department heads.
Williamson said he wanted departments to stay within their overall budgets but also wanted to know how money was spent via line items in the budget.
James “Butch” Wiand explained that his department, the city’s water and sewer department, was somewhat unique in that it required him to spend money on things such as meters and additional amounts of water to bring in revenue through water sales or water and sewer hookups. He said incoming money for new connection fees went into his water revenue account and no provision was made to add money to line items for water purchases or for new meters. He also said he needed to purchase air relief valves for the sewer system — at a cost of approximately $10,000 — because they need to be replaced and a failure could shut down the whole system. He said he had the money to buy them but it was not in the line item because the needed repair was not anticipated.
Wiand also said he had received a payment of a little more than $40,000 to hook up 49 meters at a new subdivision. He said the meters cost the city $200 each and he needed the discretion to be able to use a portion of the incoming money to pay for new meters and additional water even if it is not in the budget line item. He further explained that he needed the discretion to exceed line items to make unforeseen repairs and for new connections but that he wouldn’t spend money he didn’t have in his overall budget. The meter fees at contractor’s rate were $550 each because everything is ready for the city to put in and connect the water meter. Normal rates are $950 per meter, he said.
Wiand said he had enough meters in stock but needed to replace those meters since they were purchased to be changed out with older meters not fully compatible with the city’s new Neptune water service software.
Discussed but postponed until the beginning of the new year and a new budget was adding a water department employee to help Wiand with calls and service due to the additional hookups and new water customers in subdivisions now under construction. Wiand anticipated his incoming revenue would be enough to pay the cost of a new employee and said he is now not using all the money he could from the city’s sales and use taxes and he hopes his department will soon be self-supporting and free up sales tax money for use by other departments that did not generate their own revenue.
According to Wiand and Digby, the city would also need to look at extending water service to the east side of the airport in the near future because of growth and expansion in that portion of the city.