City Councilman Charles Kirby’s accusation city officials “are spending like drunken sailors” has raised the ire of fellow council members and Decatur city directors.
Kirby also said city officials “continue to show bad fiscal management” and their spending is a “classic case of bureaucrats gone wild.”
He made the statements July 2 during his weekly appearance on the "Suzie Wiley Show" on local TV station WYAM-51.
The city, which is operating on a $63.5 million budget, began fiscal 2019 with $10.46 million in the unassigned fund balance. The city has a separate $25 million in “hard reserves” that are set aside for spending in an emergency.
As of July 1, the unassigned fund balance was down $7.23 million to $3.23 million.
Kirby said he doesn’t like the budget philosophy the City Council and city officials are using in this term. He said previous councils often ended a fiscal year with $10 million to $12 million in their unassigned fund balance and would buy police cars, garbage trucks and firetrucks.
For example, the city had a $8.9 million balance at the end of fiscal 2015, in addition to the $13 million required by city ordinance, equivalent to three months' operating expenses.
Kirby said this council is “piecemealing this money out,” referring to the current unassigned funds, and not making departments live within their budgets, “so we don’t have anything to show for it. This is not fiscal conservatism.”
Chief Financial Officer John Andrzejewski was particularly offended by Kirby’s claim because he said the financials show the city is in good shape, with revenue 7% ahead of projections as of the mid-year budget review in May. Andrzejewski said he couldn't project how much that trend would generate for the unassigned fund by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
“It’s annoying to me that he makes those comments when he is part of the process or had the opportunity to be a part of the process,” Andrzejewski said. “He voted yes on a lot of those purchases, and that makes me scratch my head when he says the things he says.”
Andrzejewski said the council should trust its CFO, which it hired in 2018, “who has 40 years of experience creating a budget.”
Councilman Billy Jackson said Andrzejewski "has done a phenomenal job of wrestling with a system that was in bad shape before he came to the city" in 2018.
Jackson said Andrzejewski does a better job of letting the council know what is in the budget.
"During the last term, the council approved a $55 million budget that it reviewed only 53 minutes," Jackson said. "Now I consider each proposal on a case-by-case basis. If it's wise spending, I vote for it. If it's not, I don't."
Not all of the $7.23 reduction in unassigned funds so far in 2019 was spending. The council approved investing $2.8 million from the unassigned fund balance and $2.5 million from the hard reserves. This money is available if needed, but it’s expected to create more revenue for the city.
“You can't invest that type of money and be considered in bad shape,” said Councilman Chuck Ard.
Council President Paige Bibbee went over a balance sheet at Monday’s work session that showed the 63 purchases or actions approved this fiscal year with the unassigned budget.
She said Kirby voted in favor of 39 of the 63 resolutions — about 62% — and approved more than $5 million in purchases and investments from unassigned funds.
“That just confuses me,” Bibbee said.
Kirby said a lot of times two council members, usually Bibbee and Ard, would present items out of the finance committee “in which it’s obvious they already have the three votes for approval.”
Kirby admitted he’s still bitter because the council wouldn’t spend $6,000 on paving an access road along Central Parkway Southwest. Ard and Bibbee said they told Kirby they would put the project in the fiscal 2020 budget.
Kirby said they could have found the money if they wanted to do so, but it’s another example of unfair treatment toward his District 4. He said the council continues to turn down needed projects at Wilson Morgan Park while favoring other areas of the city.
The city should spend more on beautification and paving and less on consultants, while making directors include more of their needed equipment in the budget, Kirby said.
The city did spend $1.4 million, almost twice as much as the previous year, on paving in fiscal 2019.
Bibbee said she invited Kirby to sit in for her, as Councilwoman Kristi Hill does, at the finance committee meetings, but he declined each time.
Bibbee and Ard denied they always agreed on proposed expenses. Andrzejewski said he usually doesn’t present an item to the council if he doesn’t believe he has the three votes for approval.
Andrzejewski presented his first budget and the council approved it with few changes for fiscal 2019. The budget anticipated $3 million in revenue growth.
Kirby opposed budgeting $1.8 million for employee raises and increases in health insurance and retirement plan premiums.
Andrzejewski said he did change the budgeting philosophy for the current fiscal year, and there is a plan for the unassigned fund balance, which is created when the city has more revenue than expenses at the end of the fiscal year.
“This is not something where someone woke up some day and thought, ‘There’s money there, so let me have it,’ ” Andrzejewski said.
Instead of budgeting for every expense directors believed they might have in the fiscal year, Andrzejewski had them budget for only those they know they will incur. He said this budget philosophy keeps departments from tying up money on things that might not happen.
Andrzejewski said most of the unassigned fund balance is being used for large capital expenses that are too big for the general fund and for unexpected expenses.
Andrzejewski said the previous budgeting philosophy made it look like the city was a bank that was just trying to build up its reserves. He said the $10.5 million in the unassigned fund balance was excessive.
“It makes the taxpayers want their money back,” Andrzejewski said.