Carbon Hill council agonizes over financial decisions


CARBON HILL - In a meeting dominated by financial decisions, the Carbon Hill City Council voted Monday to obtain a new heating and cooling unit and police car tires, but also studied how that and other votes would affect its seriously strained strained budget. 

Council members Cindy Killingsworth, Robert Warren and Greg Anderson did not attend Monday's meeting. Mayor Mark Chambers voted on all votes. 

The city recently revealed it is years behind in audits, and that tens of thousands of dollars was not accounted for in its books over about a three-year period.  State auditors have come to the city to look at the books, and city officials have been working to try to account for past financial actions. 

Some payments to the IRS had been due since 2016. Money appears to be owed to the state by way of its municipal court. Pendley has had to call to utilities to see what is owed. 

As a result, financial decisions of usually smaller amounts were scrutinized at Monday's meeting. 

Police Chief Eric House asked the council for tires for two police vehicles, totaling  $793.44. Also, a split heating and cooling unit can be replaced with a new upgraded unit for $950 with a three-year warranty.

"The board is going to cost us between $300 and $450 to replace just the board alone, and they will not warranty the board," House said.

Chambers said a unit was donated for the dispatch area, including the installation. "But evidently this unit is a problem unit," he said. "They guy said this problem will continue to happen. They offered to put a brand new unit in with a warranty." 

Officials said the three boards are the big problem, and buying a board for $385 each will not guarantee a solution - and buying three would equal the cost of a new unit. House emphasized that the warranty will cover the units but not the boards. 

A heater borrowed from Fire and Safety Director Buddy Smith has been used recently to make do - although the weather could get much colder later.

Assistant Clerk Janice Pendley was asked by District 3 Councilwoman April Kennedy Herron about the General Fund. She reviewed the fund's finances, noting a number of checks that had been made, although she noted retirement, workers compensation and IRS expenses had not been paid yet. 

"We have had a few checks to come back from the audit," she said. "We've been pretty lucky." 

Pendley indicated some of the purchasing would have to come from the General Fund, but that it would be alright. "It would normally come from (the) improvement (fund), but there is only $136 in there."

Herron asked about $14,000 that was supposed to be in the improvement fund, but Pendley replied, "This is all we have got." 

Herron noted $1,800 would have to be spent on the two requests, but Pendley assured it was "the best time frame" to make the purchases. 

"I know it is pennies, really," Herron said during the meeting. "But we're counting pennies at this point. And I'm not trying to deny nobody nothing. You've got to have heat. We're going to get that. Period. But it is just hard." 

House noted one of police cars has not had tires placed on the unit in two years, and that the department is trying to stretch finances as well as it can. Herron said she understands. 

Separate motions were made for the tires and the units, both of which passed without opposition.

"We've got to think about somewhere, someway we can save some money, somehow," Herron said. "I know you are going barebones as it is, but if - I mean - something, until we get - you know what I am saying. Mark, you know what I am saying. There has got to be somewhere we can trim some fat somewhere." 

"We haven't got much fat," District 2 Councilman Clarence Colbert said. 

Chambers said, "When I started down here, we had 11 police officers and we were spending almost $600,000 a year. So we are half the force and spending almost a third of the money of what we were." 

House said the department has six vehicles and he would like to dispose of two of them, probably a Ford Crown Victoria and a gray Dodge Charger. 

Chambers also talked about tearing down the old city shop that was damaged in storms last year. "There is a lot of stuff in there that needs to scrap ironing," he said, including an old brush truck, tractors and one or two Crown Victorias, and maybe a Tahoe. There was question whether the cars have been crushed on impact. 

Herron suggested taking an inventory so people would know what happens to certain items when they are disposed of. 

The mayor said if city crews are used after they do their normal duties each day, the process could take some time, although he noted cutting grass is not a concern at the moment. 

He planned to ask the crews to stack metal, adding that wood items in the shop "is all junk." All that would be left would be "a slab with everything on it that's there." Many items would ruin if the roof is taken off. 

"There's ton of wood in there. I don't know where it came from, but there are thousands of tube of caulk and stuff laying all in there, stuff that has been in there for years," Chambers said. "Coke machines, refrigerators, fans - you name it, it is in there. There is thousands of dollars of stuff that you could sell." Tools, signs and even football equipment have been seen in there. 

"When we get that taken down, what we need to do is take everything that is valuable over to the new building and try to find a place to put it in there. I would sell a lot of it" at the site, he said. Herron agreed with that. 

Chambers later noted the state sent a first check, for $4,200, from gasoline tax revenue under Rebuild Alabama in recent days, but the money is restricted on bridges and roads. "We should get those every three months or so," he said.

Also, the council discussed some culvert and drainage issues in town, with Chambers said he would bring some cost estimates for issues at Sixth Avenue and near the Cobb Building. The latter situation could cost several thousands of dollars to repair that, especially if repoured with concrete. 

In the Sixth Avenue area, a yard ditch was dug near a culvert, causing the culvert to fail, which may cause the structure to be pulled out and repoured. District 5 Councilwoman and Chambers said it was a dangerous situation. 

"This coming week, we're probably going to be pulling some of those spots up," the mayor said, noting he didn't want to do it with rains coming. The repairs would have to come out of the General Fund. 

Chambers has asked grant writer Terry Acuff about a grant to replace water drainage systems, but the city is currently tied up with the grant project for the interstate lights. As soon as that is completed, the city can apply for another grant. 

In another cost saving move, City Clerk Sherry Garner was appointed as temporary magistrate. City Judge Ken Guin was quoted by the mayor as telling Chambers he would be willing to swear her in. That would allow Garner and Pendley both help, saving the city from hiring someone at the moment. 

He quoted Guin as saying he had worked with Garner last week and that she "had it down pretty good." Currently if an officer writes a ticket, he has to go to Jasper to Guin's office and come back, whereas Garner and Pendley could handle the tickets. 

"We're getting a bad backlog on tickets. I think it is the cheapest way out for us," he said.

The city clerk had also been the magistrate under former Clerk Nanette Brown, but the council in October separated the positions and allowed Brown to only be magistrate indicating the combined position involved too many duties an an attorney general's opinion questioned if there was a conflict of interest. Brown is no longer magistrate or in any other city position. 

Also, the council voted  Monday to hire Amanda Keeton and Christina Keeton as part-time dispatchers as that would help save money by preventing overtime. 

Zack Gilly, an APOST-certified officer who has worked for Jasper, was hired as a part-time officer by the council. House said Gilly came out of the academy in 2017 after Jasper Police Department had hired him. Herron, who sat in on the interviews, noted Gilly is young and nice, and is not from Carbon Hill. House noted Gilly does not know anyone in town.

House said the department is short of a part-time officer and a full-time officer, and some overtime situations have come up. Gilly will need only an extra week or so of training, and House would have liked to have had him full-time. 

Herron, who sat in on interviews for the Keetons and Gilly, said she was reluctant on Gilly because of "the money thing," but Chambers said hiring him will save money to prevent overtime. "But still, why are you hiring people when you don't have money?" she asked, saying she also understood the other point. 

In another matter, the heating and cooling in the Blue Gym is working after repair work, Chambers said. A Little League official said it still doesn't blow well and asked that the units be cleaned, although a difference can be felt in the gym and they thanked the council. 

The council also agreed to a proposal to split a $1,000 cost between Little League and the city to rewire lights at the Little League field. Herron said a lift may need to be obtained to help up, and Chambers said a tree service might help out with a truck one weekend. 

In another financial decision, Herron said Smith has worked for the city for 35 years and is not making supervisor pay, at the level of other department heads, which city officials put at about $15 an hour. The council agreed to adjust the pay. 

The council also agreed to announce an upcoming vacancy on the water board and take applications to be appointed.