Vidalia budget fails to pass again

Published 12:54 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017


VIDALIA — For the second time, Vidalia aldermen failed to pass Mayor Buz Craft’s proposed budget Tuesday.

“I don’t understand it. I’ve presented two, good, balanced budgets for them to accept,” Craft said. “To turn their back on a balanced budget and throw us into compliance issues, I feel, is irresponsible.”

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The budget adopted by the previous administration has expenditures coming in approximately $4.9 million over revenues, while the budget proposed by the Craft administration has expenditures coming in $2 million less than revenues.

“It’s almost a $7 million swing,” Craft said.

Craft previously put the proposed budget up for approval in February, and the same three aldermen — Sabrina Doré, Tron McCoy and Tommy Probst — who shut it down then, also voted against it Tuesday.

After the vote, one Vidalia resident, Martha Lushute, said board members need to start working together before the town’s residents take action.

“We elected you to work together, to complement one another,” Lushute said. “The three of y’all sitting up there are against one man in the middle (Craft) because you do not like him and you don’t want him to do what is right.

“Maybe what we need to do is call the secretary of state’s office and get paperwork on some recalls and maybe find another board that can work together for us.”

Craft asked the aldermen who voted no for some clarity on why they voted no because he did not understand it, and McCoy also suggested the people who voted yes should chime in with their opinion.

Alderman Robert Gardner said he voted for the budget for similar reasons as he did last time —while the budget might have flaws, it is a step in the right direction compared to the previous administration’s budget.

“It has room for growth and adjustments — anything we do will,” Gardner said. “I feel like the (administration) is trying to meet the town’s needs to the satisfaction of the citizens.”

Alderman Jon Betts said he voted for the revised budget because it is a budget, while what was adopted was just a bunch of numbers on paper that had a lot of issues, including a deficit of approximately $4.9 million. Betts said not approving the budget could bring problems.

“If we continue with the old budget versus what this administration is doing now, it will not be in compliance,” Betts said. “This proposed budget will bring us into compliance. In two months, we will have to start working on next year’s budget.

“We can’t let this matter drag on and not be in compliance or we will be in the same position we were with the previous administration.”

McCoy said he voted yes in June to the budget the new administration is trying to throw away. McCoy said once Craft has more experience under his belt, he would be able to propose a better budget with fewer variances.

Craft asked McCoy if he was OK with the overspending in the adopted budget.

“I said I voted yes,” McCoy said.

Doré said her no vote was also due to the variance. She said a $200,000 difference exists between the budget in February to the budget proposed Tuesday.

Doré mentioned as an example approximately $79,000 added to the city court that could be in error.

City Judge Scott McLemore said that money would not be spent. McLemore said he was willing to pledge he would not spend it or if the city wanted to subtract the money from his budget, he was fine with either scenario.

“From a citizen standpoint, I think we need to get something done on the budget,” McLemore said.

Town Accountant Debra Moak said every budget would have variances because they are projections.

“There are going to be errors,” Moak said. “In any budget, there is a margin of error.”

Doré also said she had concerns about transparency, and she believed residents should receive the full line-by-line budget, not a summary sheet. Craft said any resident who wanted the budget could come by the office and visit with him or a member of his team to ask any questions.

“We have nothing to hide,” Craft said.

Probst said working together goes two ways — the aldermen have asked for concessions and Craft has said no. Probst said Doré asked for an 11-percent decrease in administration pay in the previous budget talks, but that was not reflected.

Probst said he was particularly concerned about not making the administrative cuts while decreasing overtime from the town workers.

Probst said he could not approve a budget where the top takes from the bottom.

Doré had asked during the previous budget discussion for the administration to look at overtime, as the town was spending $40,000 a month on overtime.

Craft said at the board’s request the town did look into the issue and discovered an overtime practice that had been used by many town workers for years was against the law, according to a labor lawyer.

Regarding the administration expenses, Craft said he added a town manager position, which the previous administration did not have. Instead, the previous administration had an assistant to the mayor.

Craft said his administration is still costing taxpayers $25,000 less than the previous administration.

Corrine Randazzo, widow of a former Vidalia mayor Sam Randazzo, asked aldermen why even with some numbers off, the budget could not be amended.

“If you can’t pass a budget before you are audited and written up, I would be embarrassed for you all,” she said.

Resident Cassandra Lynch said the board is going to make history.

“We’ll be famous for being the only town to not have a budget that is getting ready to adopt another budget,” Lynch said.

Craft said he was disappointed in the board’s decision.

“I don’t think there is anything I could present to the aldermen that one or two would approve,” Craft said.