The Decatur City Council settled the sometimes contentious mayor-council travel issue Monday by deciding an unbudgeted trip must cost more than $2,500 to require council approval.
The last hurdle to establishing the new policy involved clarifying who would decide if money could be moved from another line item in the mayor-council budget to cover the travel. Once it was decided that was a council decision, the resolution passed unanimously.
The council also voted to hire MidSouth Testing for $9,000 to do geo-technical testing on Carrie Matthews Recreation Center, which has a sinking gymnasium floor.
Additionally, the council unanimously supported a resolution introduced by Councilman Charles Kirby urging the state Legislature to spend any gas tax increase, if approved, only on roads and bridges and to take into account the number of roads and how heavily they're used when dispersing money between cities and counties.
On the travel issue, Council President Paige Bibbee said the $2,500 threshold was inadvertently left out of the resolution that passed in December after debate between council members and the mayor became heated.
At the time, council members discussed $1,500 or $2,500, but the level was not inserted into the resolution, she said.
“I had assumed it had been added, but there was a little back and forth, and things kind of got a little hot,” Bibbee said. “I certainly hope this is the last of the issue.”
Councilman Chuck Ard said afterward he was satisfied with the answer to his question about who would approve a budget change for an unplanned trip.
“All I wanted in this whole issue was checks and balances,” Ard said. “And in the past, there were no checks and balances.”
Kirby said he also wanted to establish who would approve budget changes to reassure city residents “who are concerned we don’t answer to anyone on travel expenses.”
This was the second change since the travel rules were introduced last fall after Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling angered some council members when they found out during budget talks that he scheduled an economic development trip to Japan in October without informing them of his plans.
Led by Bibbee and Ard, council members argued the new rules were checks and balances needed to control the budget, while Bowling took offense and called the instituting of restrictions “personal.”
Bowling said last week when the $2,500 travel resolution was introduced that he appreciates the council’s cooperation. On Monday, he said he would not add a line item for unplanned travel to future mayor-council budgets.
The mayor, who said he hasn’t missed any necessary trips, said an upcoming trip to Montgomery for the League of Municipalities’ Advocacy Day is the first unbudgeted trip in fiscal 2019 since the Japan trip. He said this trip is expected to cost about $650.
“We don’t budget for contingencies,” Bowling said. “This money is a small amount for us. (CFO) John (Andrzejewski) and (mayor’s secretary) Susan (Hood) know how much we have in our budget.”