By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council had a busy agenda on its collective plate but still managed to approve the 2011 budget, adopt a new city policy and arrive at consensus about rampant electric bills at the Dixie Youth League baseball complex.
The main item on the agenda at the Sept. 21 meeting was to approve the fiscal year 2011 general fund, water fund and sewer fund budgets, which the Council unanimously voted to adopt. The Council voted to make some minor adjustments to the budgets, the long and short of which is that, while revenues increased across the board, the general fund budget includes a provision to only increase cost of living expenses for city employees for 3 percent instead of the 5 percent also calculated, a move which saves the city $1,500. The water and sewer funds, however, stick with the 5-percent increase to revenues (an action approved earlier in the meeting by the adoption of an amended Ordinance 09-01, which had originally called for a 3-percent increase in water rates). More details on the changes made the 2011 budgets can be found elsewhere in this week’s edition of The Herald in an article dealing specifically with the budget workshop.
The Council also voted to adopt a heavily revised Policy 210, which gives the sitting mayor the ability to suspend an employee without pay (or fire them outright without being compelled to pay severance) should they be found to be in violation of city codes of conduct or guilty of a criminal offense. Previously, neither the mayor nor Council would have been able to forgo paying severance to an employee in this position. The revision, first proposed at last month’s meeting, met with an enthusiastic round of voting and was approved unanimously.
One of the more significant items of discussion did not appear on the meeting agenda. Councilwoman Ann Sexton made the motion that the Town Council should no longer pay the Dixie Youth League’s electric bill during the off-season. The League’s contract with the city comes up for renewal in January of 2011, but Sexton said that an agreement must be reached before then to prevent high energy bills at the baseball park, which she said have been steadily increasing for years. Sexton said simply that the officers of the league were “not doing their part.”
“You could cool meat [in the concession stand and press booth],” Sexton said. “I have fought for them not to have to pay for the light bill and I have come to the conclusion that [the Dixie Youth officers] are not working with us in any way. I don’t want to see the rates go up so that the kids can’t afford to get into the league, but their officers are not helping us. That building belongs to the city of Paxton. Their officers are misusing their authority.”
Mayor Hayward Thomas volunteered to bring these concerns before the Dixie Youth Leauge at its next meeting, which happens to fall next month. He also made the suggestion that a member of the Town Council become a member of the league’s board of directors.
Beyond these more pressing concerns, the Council also certified the results of last month’s city elections, which will see in three new Council members come November. Travis McMillian, Charles Cook and former mayor Tommy Mathis were all in attendance at the meeting. Current Council members Ann Sexton and Mark Warren elected not to run again and Bill McRae, who did run for reelection, was defeated by McMillian to the tune of a nine-vote margin.
Several other items came up for approval, including an interfund transfer of $2,677 of surplus money from the water fund to the sewer fund (this transfer was factored into the 2011 proposed sewer fund budget). Futhermore, the Council also voted to hire Erik Lassiter on Oct. 8 to fill a full-time permanent position in the city’s water department, complete with an immediate 50-cent raise.
Thomas updated the Council on the progress of the tile installation at the city’s Agricultural Building, a plan that has been in the works for the better part of this year. Thomas said inmate labor from Walton Correctional Institution had been guaranteed for the renovation project and screening is underway to determine if any of the workers had experience in laying tile. Thomas said around $26,000 in contingency funds were available should the city need to hire skilled workers to augment the inmate laborers.
In a related note Thomas informed the Council that City Attorney Lori Bytell had come into possession of about 30 cases of non-slip tile that she wished to donate to the city for use in the renovation project at the Ag Building.
Fiona DeSpain, Bytell’s associate, informed the Council in her attorney’s report that the eviction action against Greg Williams Electric Co., the former tenants of the city’s Airport Building, was continuing as planned but no new information had come along. DeSpain said she and Bytell would keep the Council abreast of any new development in the lawsuit.
The Council members departmental reports were varied, though Councilwoman Jenice Armstrong made note that nine tables had gone missing from the Ag Building following its rental by a private party at some point this month. The Council wished to notify the public that the tables could be returned and no foul play was suspected. Armstrong said the tables were most likely taken by accident and that “things like this happen from time to time.”
To end the meeting on a positive note, Sgt. Danny Garner of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office presented Thomas with a plaque signed by Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, congratulating the mayor on his assistance resolving a murder case. In August of 2009, the WCSO was looking for the vehicle of a murder suspect, which Thomas identified while in Laurel Hill. He then contacted the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, who in turned contacted Walton County lawmen, which eventually led to the suspect’s arrest.