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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Decatur budget quarrel an example of city’s error

Several things are wrong about the manner in which the mayor and City Council approached Decatur's operating budget.

Certainly, the mayor should have presented the budget soon enough that officials could debate, tweak and adopt it before the fiscal year began. He didn't.

Reasonable estimations of the cost of specific items should have been included with the budget information — a chart detailing the effect employee raises at various levels would have on expenditures, for example. They weren't.

In fact, the City Council on Monday adopted a $48.9 million operating budget that included 2.5 percent cost-of-living raises for employees, and Mayor Don Kyle exercised a line-item veto later that same day to negate the raises.

Yet neither the council nor the mayor knows how much the proposed cost-of-living raises would cost.

Mr. Kyle, after consulting the Finance Department, said the proposed wage hikes would cost the city roughly $606,000 this year and roughly $715,000 annually thereafter.

Councilman Ronny Russell said the raise would cost the city about $425,000 this year and about $500,000 thereafter.

Chief Financial Officer Gail Busbey said the raises would have cost $505,469 this year and $597,372 annually after that.

It is true that Mr. Kyle, Mr. Russell and Ms. Busbey all used different variables to arrive at their estimates, such as when raises would take effect and how much city employees would pay for health insurance. But they obviously should have worked out those details before the vote.

What's most bothersome about the city's budget, however, is the message City Hall sends to residents and potential residents of Decatur.

It is not the budget of a progressive city that highly values the importance of parks, schools and other quality-of life amenities. It is not the budget of a city that aims to attract a portion of the expected influx of residents to the region resulting from the expanded mission at Redstone Arsenal.

It is not a budget that says to business and industry, "Come to our city."

That is not the image of Decatur we envision, but it could have been accomplished in a more professional manner that suggests we are on top of the problems and intend to resolve them in a businesslike manner as we keep our dignity intact.

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