The problem is that the City Council needs to pass a budget by Jan. 1 to meet state guidelines, or it could be risking the loss of its city charter and thousands of dollars of state tax revenue and grants.
Mt. Zion has traditionally operated on an October-through-September fiscal budget. The system has operated well in the past, according to Mayor Randy Sims, but it got derailed this year when the county and municipalities couldn’t agree on a local option sales tax (LOST) division formula by the city’s budget time. Attempts by the mayor to pass a temporary three-month budget have been rejected by the council, which has left the city on shaky legal ground of operating without a budget.
But last night the mayor and the three council members present voted unanimously to discuss the budget at a Thursday night public forum and then set a called meeting date, before year’s end, to approve the budget. The group will consider both a temporary three-month budget and its regular 12-month budget, with a goal of moving from a fiscal year to the calendar year.
Attending Tuesday’s meeting, in addition to the mayor, were council members Earlis McGraw, Andrew Ritchie and Bobby Mullenix. The fourth council member, Keith Pike, sent word to the meeting that he had resigned, effective immediately.
The vote came after the council heard more than an hour of public input from members of a crowd of more than 100 people. The meeting had been moved in advance from its normal city hall location to accommodate the expected large crowd.
David Mecklin, the city’s attorney, said state law requires that every city has a budget, although there’s no penalty for not having one.
“It’s required for a state audit,” Mecklin said. “If it’s not passed in proper time, the state could start withholding sales tax money, grant money and insurance premiums. It would be a financial blow to the city. The city does need to pass a 12-month budget by the end of the year.”
Mullinex said he had rejected the proposed three-month budget because it didn’t have enough information in it. He and the other two council members present indicated they would give it additional consideration Thursday night after Sims said he will add a third column which will show actual expenditures, in addition to columns with last year’s budget numbers and the proposed new budget amounts.
The suggestion for the third column came from an audience member, Gloria Buchanan, who said the council needs to see what’s actually been spent on the various line items.
Most of the public comments expressed concern that the mayor and council members seemed to have problems getting along together and that is hindering needed action.
“The people of Mt. Zion are hurting because you can’t get along with each other,” an unidentified audience member said. “Work together and do what it takes to help the people of Mt. Zion.”
Audience member David McKee said, “I see a Washington, D.C., here in the local area. I’m not real pleased with it. I ran against Randy Sims (for mayor) and was soundly defeated. I thank God now that I wasn’t elected.”
After the mayor and council reached agreement on the Thursday public forum on the budget, they unanimously passed several other agenda items including:
• approval of Mt. Zion’s 1.35 percent LOST share, as passed by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners;
• a $15 qualifying fee for 2013 council candidates;
• and approval of a Georgia Department of Transportation grant which will give the city $23,000 for road repairs, which the city will need to match with $6,000 from special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) funds.
Sims seemed confident before the meeting ended that the differences can be worked out on the budget.
“The city of Mt. Zion will have a budget before we go to bed on New Year’s Eve,” he told the gathering.