Quincy commissioners question budget

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By Cheri Harris

Money was a major topic of conversation at the Sept. 24 meeting of Quincy’s city commission.

Quincy City Manager Jack McLean maintained through the proceedings that the municipality could be in better financial shape, but it is better than it has been in the past.

One issue of concern is a revolving line of credit the city uses to pay some of its bills. Currently the balance on the line is about $747,000, with a payment due in November.

McLean told commissioners the city will either meet the Nov. 30 deadline and pay the line down or convert it into a loan and discuss how to service that debt, “but our intention is to get it paid down,” he said.

Commissioner Derrick Elias told McLean he considers any debt carried over from this fiscal year into the next to make the city’s budget unbalanced.

McLean told him the commission has done that in the past with larger expenditures.

“We managed to match up our cash flow with our obligations with our creditors,” McLean said, “and we’ve been able to do that.”

Elias told McLean he respectfully disagreed with him because if the city continued to carry debt over, it would eventually have to account for those dollars.

“We are going to continue falling short,” Elias said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Commissioner Larry Edwards said he checked with several other cities and they handle their debt the same way. He said the only way to avoid that would be to pass a law like the state does requiring a balanced budget.

“I’d rather us pay all of our bills off and the first of October it would be zero, our debt,” he said, “but until we do that I don’t see how we can do that.”

Elias said if the commission doesn’t do this, the city will always be in this boat. He said that is why he voted against the millage rate and budget during the second readings. He said he is also concerned about the contract with the Quincy Police Department, which was not included in the budget and would require a budget amendment. He suggested starting negotiations earlier with QPD so that contract could also be included in the budget. 

McLean said overall, the city’s debt is down and that has been accomplished without increases in rates or property tax. Though McLean said he does not like having the city in debt, he said it is trending in the right direction.

“That’s the point that I want to make,” he said.

Commissioner Gerald “Andy” Gay said the line of credit troubles him because the balance has grown from about $300,000 to its current amount.

“That’s a great area of concern for me,” he said, “considering the fact that we have missed very badly a lot of our budgeted numbers this past fiscal year.

He noted that the city received 83 percent of its budgeted revenue but transferred 85.6 percent to the city government.

“That’s a deficit right there,” he said.

McLean said the city’s expenditures and revenues do match up at about 82 percent. He urged commissioners to meet for a budget workshop.

“We’re more transparent than most governments as far as what our expenditures are,” he said. 

Mayor Keith Dowdell urged cooperation among council members.

“Yes, the city of Quincy is under some financial constraints,” he said, “but we can’t sit here around this dais and point fingers. Our job is to make policies and procedures but we can’t make policies and procedures at budget time. We’ve got to do it during the entire year.”

Commissioners also questioned whether or not they were being paid more than the city ordinance allowed — about $15,000 instead of $14,000, or $1,167.77 monthly allowed by law. McLean said that was a benefits issue to take up at a later time.

Jeremy Miller, the city’s interim attorney, urged commissioners to make use of his services outside of session.

While they can’t meet with him in executive session unless the city faces a lawsuit, Miller said he can communicate with them individually.

Commissioners also discussed arranging a meeting with Dowdell, McLean and Tallahassee Community College representatives to discuss finding another location in Quincy other than the property known as Ward’s Lot, because some residents oppose the plan.

“I just don’t want them to think we don’t want them here,” Dowdell said.