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October 17, 2013

New Albany council approves $22M budget

Councilwoman questions $200,000 quality-of-life fund

While the Floyd County Council grappled with a $3.6 million shortfall Thursday evening, the New Albany City Council passed its 2014 budget last night with only one “no” vote.

The $22 million fiscal plan includes a 3 percent raise for nonunion employees, including all elected officials except for council members. Councilman Dan Coffey called for the council’s raise to be removed earlier this month, and the adjusted salaries for elected officials were approved on final reading Thursday. The city’s budget is expected to be balanced, though final approval will come later from the state.

“They were very professional and very diligent,” Councilman Scott Blair said of Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration in preparing the 2014 budget.

However Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti cast the lone no vote against the budget, in part because she said she struggled to obtain some information from the administration. After the meeting, Benedetti said she had requested a breakdown of the percentage increase per department in funding for the 2014 budget compared to this year.

She said she initially made the request at the onset of budget negotiations several weeks ago, and again asked for the breakdown this week. Though Benedetti said she eventually crunched the numbers herself, she questioned why the administration failed to provide more information to the council before they voted on a $22 million budget.

“If I can’t get the information I’m asking for, how can I pass a budget?,” she said.

One particular aspect of the budget that Benedetti questioned was the addition of $200,000 to the Board of Public Works and Safety for quality-of-life projects. Benedetti and Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede opposed the council’s decision earlier this year when the body appropriated $100,000 to the board of works for quality-of-life projects.

Some of those funds were used for the city’s summer concert series, and $1,000 was spent by the board for an Independence Day celebration in Coffey’s district.

Coffey was one of the main organizers of the event, which featured live music and fireworks, and requested the funds from the board of works.

During the meeting, Benedetti asked Shane Gibson, an attorney in the city’s legal department, if the administration would agree to earmark $1,000 per council district and also set aside some funds for At-large council members so that each can have similar events throughout the year. Gibson said the administration would consider any requests brought forward by the council pertaining to quality-of-life projects.

Benedetti said following the meeting that she’s still uneasy with an additional $200,000 being set aside for a board that’s appointed.

“I’m all about quality-of-life, but that’s a huge number to put at their discretion for them to decide what is quality-of-life,” she said.

Benedetti added that she wants to cooperate with the administration, but also believes that information should be made more easily available to council members. She also questioned Council President Pat McLaughlin during the course of the meeting about the status of the annual city audit performed by the state.

State auditors have been in New Albany wrapping up their work, and Gibson said the audit may be published sometime next month. Administration officials said no drastic issues have been pointed out by auditors in regards to the city’s finances or procedures.

Benedetti said that the audit is another example of an issue that the council needs to be made aware of without having to ask.

The budget was approved 7-1. Councilman Greg Phipps was absent from the meeting.

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