Deja Vu All Over Again At Minden City Council Meeting
Written by Mark Chreene on October 5, 2021
As the old Yogi Berra saying goes, it was Deja vu all over again at the Minden City Council meeting Monday night. After a meeting that lasted nearly 2 and a half hours and featured numerous comments from the public that lectured the Minden City Council and Mayor on unity and working together, they failed for the third straight month to approve the city of Minden budget for 2021-2022. The vote was the same as the previous votes, with council members Pam Bloxom and Michael Roy voting for, and council members Terika Walker, Wayne Edwards, and Vincen Bradford voting against. While the council couldn’t agree on the budget, they did approve other items at Monday’s meeting. Items that were approved included:
- Hiring of Hank Ashley, firefighter for City Of Minden Fire Department
- Adoption of Ordinance No. 1122, Annual Bridge Maintenance Report
- Adoption of Resolution supplementing the Administrative policies and procedures to include “Use of Federal Funds- Verification of Contractor Eligibility” for all projects that include the use of Federal funds for city projects.
- Adoption of Resolution for Annual Certification of Compliance with State of Louisiana Off-System Bridge Replacement Program.
- Adoption of Resolution stating that the City of Minden agrees to fund Administrative Services and Engineering Services for the Fiscal Year 2022 Louisiana Community Development Block Grant.
- Approved a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the state of Louisiana to receive $75,000 for grant funds for the relocation and rehabilitation of the Minden Animal Shelter, as chosen by the City Council, and authorized the Mayor to sign all documents.
The Council heard a lengthy report from Acting City Clerk, Michael Fluhr, who reported that end of month reports for August were not available due to being short staffed in the financial office. Fluhr said that there was a resignation and retirement and neither were able to be replaced in time to get the reports ready. An Assistant Clerk has been hired and another hire has been made in the Accounts Receivable/Payroll department, and Fluhr reported that he hoped to have reports ready by the end of the week.
Fluhr reported a few highlights of financials Monday night, including:
- All major funds still show a deficit of $500,000 as of the end of August for the city.
- August Sales tax collections were at $569,250 up from $503,759 in August 2020 and over the budgeted amount of $512,500. Fluhr noted that at 11 months into the collections period, the city would receive more than $1 million in sales tax collections for 2020-2021 fiscal year.
- Cash report shows $17.1 million in total for the city, $8.35 million in cash and $8.76 million in CDs and investments. This amount was less than $17.3 million in July and $18.6 million for August 2020.
- The city received the first of two payments from the state from the American Rescue Plan in the amount of $2.189 million with another $2.189 million payment coming at the end of fiscal year 2021-2022, next September. Fluhr noted that while these funds are given to the city, they have parameters that they must be used for.
- Fluhr reported an update on STEP collections from the Police Department. The city had spent $99,150 to prepare the cars and other expenses for the program. So far received for the city was $93,394 from the STEP program.
- Post cards went out with city utility bills this month for the questionnaire on whether citizens of the city would be agreeable to a $5 charge added to utility bills to fund first responder pay raises. Fluhr stated that the first batch of those had made it back to the city today.
- Fluhr stated that the SWEPCO bill increased by $150,000 to the city this month and would probably do so again next month due to the costs incurred with the closure of the Mansfield plant.
At the conclusion of his financial report, Fluhr then took a moment to express frustration with the council on two points.
The first, being the most obvious, the failure of the council to adopt the budget. Fluhr noted that the city, since Thursday afternoon, has been operating at 50% of the 2019-2020 budget. Fluhr said that he has advised all department heads not to make any purchase order requests at this point unless they are deemed an emergency. Fluhr stated that the city can’t just cut all accounts in half regarding the budget, but that only half of the total amount is available and that the city would do the best they can to stretch those dollars as far as they can go, while still making payroll along with providing basic government services.
The second point that Fluhr had concerns about was the subject of pay raises for first responders. While Fluhr stated that all employees are entitled to pay raises, the biggest issue is the total cost of the pay raise. According to Fluhr, the total cost of the pay raise could be over $500,000 and the $5 charge on utility bills would not fully cover. The bigger issue, Fluhr stated, was the possibility a future administration and council could overturn the charge, leaving the pay raise unfunded.
Fluhr then admonished the council to stop their bickering and come to an agreement to pass a budget for the city.
The council heard from Police Chief, Steve Cropper, who gave his monthly report for the month of September:
- 32 Vehicle Accidents
- 163 Warrants issued
- 50 Warrants served
- 643 Calls for service
- 139 Incident reports
- 57 Arrests
- 76 citations
Cropper noted that the STEP report for September showed 0 tickets issued due to short staffing situations, but 34 STEP citations were paid in September from previous months.
For the next hour, the council heard comments from 10 members of the public in attendance. Those comments consisted mainly of frustration with the lack of cooperation with the council and mayor on the inability to approve the budget, some asking specifically about the raises in the budget that were part of the apparent differences with the mayor and council, and some discussing the incident between the Mayor and Councilman Bradford at the end of last month’s meeting, and the utility bill charge that was being proposed.
The next meeting of the Minden City Council is set for Monday, November 1st.