Despite objections from Mayor Darnell Waites, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance that would change the starting pay for city firefighters from $9.11 per hour to $12 per hour.
“You have positions in this city that start at $13 per hour and these people are out there saving lives,” said councilwoman Doris Alexander, who brought the proposed ordinance before the council.
Waites told the council he had no idea the proposed ordinance was going to be introduced. The council voted to add the item to the agenda during the meeting.
“This is how things get out of hand,” Waites said. “No one came and talked to me. I have made notice in the past that I want to look at comparable police and fire pay plans and raise it if we can afford it. But if we’re going to do it for one, we need to do it for all. We don’t want to get into setting the tone for just one department.”
All city employees will receive a 2 percent raise in the 2017-18 budget, he added.
“You talked to the firemen,” Alexander countered. “You were aware of this.”
“I knew the council was going to ask for a raise (for the firefighters.) But (the firefighters) never came to me,” Waites said. “Now we’re going to have to redo the budget and it’s already tight. We need to slow this down. This is not the way we need to be doing business.”
In a related issue, accounting firm Faulk & Winkler representative Lauren Sherman and certified public accountant Mary Sue Stages addressed the council regarding plans to fix accounting irregularities that auditor Melvin Davis pointed out during his audit of the city’s books for the fiscal year 2015-16.
Davis listed 17 findings and issued a disclaimer on the audit, meaning the problems with the bookkeeping were so significant he declined to provide an opinion. The city is on the state legislative auditor’s noncompliance list, not only because of the findings but also for missing the December deadline to submit the audit to the state.
The state gave Baker an extension to March 30 due to the August flooding, but the city also missed that deadline. Davis submitted the completed audit to the state at the end of April.
Along with Stages, Faulk & Winkler will assist the city preparing an action plan with respect to the city’s finances, and provide the council with monthly updates on the progress.
The state will remove Baker from the noncompliance list if it approves the plan, which the city must submit by May 19. Until that happens, Baker cannot receive any grant money from the state, including flood relief funds.
“We can’t change what happened, but we are going to take the opportunity to get this fixed. We have a plan and we are going to get it right this time,” Waites said.
The mayor took office in July, at the end of the fiscal year the audit covered.
Also on Tuesday, Alice Sanders, director of utility billing for the city, said Baker’s water meters are back online after they were damaged during the August flooding and later by lightning.
For the past five months, most water bills in the city reflected zero usage; however, the city is not allowed to give away government services. Therefore, residents will see a higher bill for May and if they have trouble paying, the city can put them on a payment plan, Sanders said.
Finally, resident Joyce Burges announced that a dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, on Groom Road, will be held at the park at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21.
Advocate Staff Report | The Advocate
Last modified: May 23, 2017