Board passes $3,795,417 budget with 29.75-cent property tax rate
The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has passed ordinances on final reading that set a $3,795,417 budget and a 29.75-cent property tax rate for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Board members took the action during a Sept. 9 special called meeting.
Each ordinance was passed by a 3-1 vote, with Alderman Billy Ray Morris the lone dissenter. They were both approved on first reading at an Aug. 22 special meeting.
The actual property tax rate for the previous fiscal year was 15.55 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation. Town Recorder/Treasurer Tammie Hightower said this is the first time the rate has been increased in 15 years.
During a public hearing shortly before the votes, Paul Billingsley of 545 Eagle Valley Drive noted that he is one of four volunteer lieutenants with the Oakland Fire Department. He said he was told that it is “illegal” for them to be paid $350 a month, and that money would be cut from the budget.
Noting that $50,000 was appropriated in the budget for the Reserve firefighters, Billingsley said the board initially wanted to cut that to $25,000.
“If you want to take the money away,” he said, “these guys can go other places that are a lot closer to home. We have guys who drive from Memphis to volunteer here to get their foot in the door.”
If any of the aldermen are not sure what the lieutenants do, Billingsley said, they can come over to the fire department, put on turnout gear and train with them. But he said he would expect “100-percent participation.”
“I don’t want just one person to come back and tell everybody else,” he said. “I want anybody who works in administration to come over here, and I’ll show you how it works.”
Billingsley said it is the board’s responsibility to know what the lieutenants do and to ask them questions, because they are not just “numbers on a piece of paper.” This is what they live for, because they are “career firemen.”
“The lieutenants have been paid for three administrations,” he noted. “So, ultimately, you’re going to have to make a decision, because the residents of Oakland deserve the best thing they can have. They don’t deserve to have their houses burn down.”
Frank Cates of 35 Michelle Cove expressed the hope that, when the board members decided to increase the property tax rate, they considered the residents living on a small Social Security check who probably cannot purchase medicine and groceries.
Noting that he did not see “one dime cut off the top” of the budget, Cates said he thinks the mayor’s and town recorder’s salary should be reduced by $10,000.
Because the board is “doubling” the property tax rate, District 4 Fayette County Commissioner Reggie Howard said he would like to know how that extra money will be used.
“As a resident of Oakland, I don’t want the town to have a slush fund,” he said. “I don’t want to pay more taxes than what is needed, and I think most of the people in this town ought to feel the same way.”
Declaring that he has been watching the financial situation in Oakland for the past eight years, Bart Regan of 15 Fair Oaks Drive said he thinks the board has been “responsible” in what it has done with the budget this year. But he expects “further adjustments” to be made, because they are available.
Regan also said doubling the tax rate will generate only about $200,000 more a year.
“You’ve made it pretty clear that it will be used for infrastructure,” he said. “But $200,000 isn’t going to repair too many streets.”
Judy Miller of 150 Countrywood Lane asked why a town the size of Oakland needs a full-time mayor who is paid $62,383 a year and a full-time Parks and Recreation director who makes $49,000 a year, plus benefits. She also asked why $92,800 has been budgeted for the Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and additional money has been allocated for travel expenses.
Miller said Mayor Chris Goodman told her “personally” before he was sworn in that he would retire from his other job, except for “a few clients.” But she said he seems to still be doing his other job full-time and is only being a part-time mayor.
“Why can you not be a part-time mayor and make a lower salary than what you’re making now?” she asked Goodman. “If you’re going to work part-time, why not be paid part-time?”
Responding to her comments, the mayor said the Chamber expense has increased because of the work that it is doing.
“It is the chief marketing arm of the town of Oakland,” he noted. “And included in that are four new signs for the boundaries of Oakland all the way around.”
Goodman also said the $7,000 allocated in the budget for travel is not just for the mayor and aldermen.
“In order to have a good staff, it has to be trained,” he noted. “And some of our staff has not been trained in municipal government. That budget is for everyone in administration, for the ladies up front, as well as the aldermen and the mayor.”
The mayor recalled that he has been quoted in more than one story in the Oakland News as saying that he intends to keep his other job. He acknowledged that he does want to get to the point where he can reduce his hours at City Hall.
Noting that he is working eight to 10 hours a day at the mayor’s job, Goodman said he is meeting with the mayors of the county’s other municipalities, as well as different economic development groups and residents. So, he asked what he is not getting done that the residents expect him to accomplish.
“Unfortunately, who’s losing out on this thing of me filling the job of mayor is my family,” he said. “But they have agreed to let me do this. If the residents still feel that’s an issue, then we need to talk more and decide.”
Noting that he has been doing his other job for 17 years, Goodman said he believes he is managing the two together. But at some point, he said, he will gladly give back some of his salary as mayor.
“The Charter will not allow it to be changed during a term,” he said. “If this board chooses to change that salary for the next person coming in here, that is definitely its right.”
Alderman Karl Chambless said that, if the board believes Oakland should have a part-time mayor, it must submit a request for review by the Tennessee General Assembly. Then, the question can be put to the residents with a referendum on an election ballot.
“If they determine that the mayor should be part-time,” he said, “it’s then sent back to the state legislature to approve it. Then, the next term of the mayor, it becomes a part-time position.”
But Chambless noted that, if Oakland has a part-time mayor, someone has to run the town. Although Collierville and Germantown have part-time mayors, he said they each have a city manager who is paid “very handsomely.” And he noted that the salary must be sufficient to entice experienced managers to apply for the job.
About Graham Sweeney
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