The Oak Grove City Council held a special called meeting Monday evening to give a proclamation making June 19 “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” and to vote on the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget.
The council ultimately voted to approve the new year’s budget with additional amendments the council requested before the second reading.
Last Tuesday, the council hosted a special meeting to discuss the city’s budget, where council members suggested several changes to be made.
Those previous requests included funding improvements to Walter Garrett Lane, adding compensation per run for volunteer firefighters as well as eliminating the firefighters’ water bill forgiveness and having a paid fire chief.
At the last meeting, council members said they had been receiving messages from citizens stating that vehicles have been getting stuck on Walter Garrett or damaged due to the holes and water drainage problems.
Farmers have also complained about having to drive their equipment on the road and council members considered the road to be dangerous and stated that it needed to be addressed.
The council shared that in previous years, the city paid roughly $90,000 to have gravel laid on Walter Garrett Lane three times a year.
The council suggested using the money left in the stormwater fee fund that the city needs to spend on Hugh Hunter Road, since a portion of that project would be improving drainage.
The city’s municipal road aid fund was slated to be used to till and pave Hugh Hunter.
The council suggested using the funds from the road aid fund for Walter Garrett instead of Hugh Hunter.
Edwards suggested using the stormwater fund to help fund the project and using a portion of the road aid fund that would have been used on improving drainage on Hugh Hunter, and instead using it all to improve Walter Garrett.
As the council began considering the budget this Tuesday, council members noted that decision to move those funds accordingly were not included in the budget and it needed to be amended to reflect that decision, which included $100,000 being used from the stormwater fund.
Council member Janet Edwards also said that the budget showed a paid, part-time fire chief position.
The New Era reported last week that the council discussed using the former Emergency Services Director salary of roughly $80,000 to go toward the position in the fire department. The council agreed during that meeting.
However, on Tuesday, Edwards said that she thought the council had to vote on adding a part-time fire chief position. Jarvis shared that the council only has to vote to approve new positions if they are full-time.
Council member James McKnight requested that the budget be amended to include a 2.3% payroll increase for council members to be on par with similarly sized cities’.
“I want to talk about the compensation for city council as it’s been stagnant for 14 years, that I know of,” McKnight said. “It hasn’t been in keeping with the KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes) to maintain the purchasing power, which there’s been no COLs (cost of living) adjusted to it.”
The council shared that the increase in payroll would not affect current council members. City Attorney Mark Gilbert added that the pay raise wouldn’t go into effect for council until 2022.
Council member Kisha Mische-Jeffrey added that with the compensation plan in mind, she believed the council has been under-compensated.
“As we’re looking at the compensation plan and we’re comparing ourselves with similar sized cities and looking at the efforts being made for the position — again, it’s not for us, but looking forward — I do think the position is under-compensated,” Jeffrey said.
The council agreed, however, Gilbert shared that the raise would have to be voted on by May on the year that the election takes place. The council agreed and voted to approve the decision unanimously.
McKnight also requested that the budget reflect Oak Grove Tourism’s budget as this year’s budget did not show it, but last year’s budget did.
Jarvis and City Clerk Angela Comperry said they would amend the budget to include it.
As the budget discussion continued, Jeffrey shared that she felt the council did not have enough time to thoroughly review the budget and as such, suggested only approving a minimal budget just to keep the city running while the council continues to review the budget for amendments in the future.
“I recommend a minimal budget to keep the city capable of functioning while we evaluate the compensation plan,” Jeffrey said. “My vote’s going to be no today. I made my intentions clear at the last meeting that I do not believe that we’re prepared. I don’t believe we’ve spent enough time evaluating every issue on the budget.”
Ultimately, the council voted 5-1 to approve the budget with the suggested amendments. Jeffrey was the sole no vote.