Budget discussions grow heated

ALBANY, Ga. — The strain of finalizing a $108 million budget at a time when citizens are calling for more services and less taxes appears to be fraying the nerves of Albany city leaders.

Usually unflappable City Manager James Taylor engaged in a heated exchange with city commissioners during a discussion of the city attorney's budget at a work session Tuesday morning.

Chastised by Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell over his supposed attempts to "control" City Attorney Nathan Davis' budget, Taylor fired back.

"You guys seem to want to throw money at the problems, and that's your decision to make," Taylor said. "I do the things I do for a reason. If you're saying an $8,000 reduction (in the city attorney's budget) is going to kill the city attorney, he was dead already.

"You've directed me to manage the city's resources, but there are only a limited number of resources. I'm beating my head against the wall trying to get to nowhere. I gave you a five-year plan to save money, and I need to know if you're going to support that plan. If you're not, tell me so I can quit working 23 hours a day to try and get this done."

When Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta jokingly apologized for touching off the response, saying, "No man Mr. Taylor's age should get that excited," Taylor responded, "Oh, you've never seen me get excited."

The exchange took place while commissioners were discussing best use of the city attorney's budget. Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said he'd reconsidered an earlier statement he'd made to The Albany Herald questioning the need for three attorneys in Davis' office.

"I hate to tweak the budget at this late date, but I think Mr. Davis needs that third attorney," Howard said.

The commission also engaged in a spirited debate over the need to continue funding federal and state lobbyists.

"I've seen no positive outcome from federal issues," Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said. "I feel that if I need to contact Sanford Bishop, I can pick up my cellphone and call him."

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff defended the services provided by the city's federal lobbyist, but said he didn't see a particular need for a state lobbyist. Ward II's Ivey Hines said access at the national level is crucial.

"We might be able to call our senators and representatives, but the question is having eyes and ears there," Hines said. "The eyes and ears ... that's what makes this a good investment."

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard acknowledged that management may not have done a good enough job of explaining how both state and federal lobbyists have impacted the city.

"Mr. Taylor and I have been to Washington; we've seen (federal lobbyist) Marion Turner work," she said. "He knows how to navigate that maze, and people there know him. He's also offered us a discount because he knows how much we're struggling, and that impressed me.

"And (state lobbyist) Rufus Montgomery has an amazing ability to work with both sides of the aisle in Atlanta. I think the money we're talking about spending will get us a good return on our investment."

The commission voted to allocate $84,240 for Turner's Washington-based Alcade and Fay Ltd. firm with a maximum $10,000 for additional expense reimbursements and $60,000 (with a maximum $1,000 for expenses) for Montgomery's Atlanta-based Hall Booth Smith P.C. firm.

Commissioners also tentatively OK'd an agreement with the Albany Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity chapter to lease the former Lee Street Library property for $500 a year starting July 1 with options to renew the lease over the next four years. Fraternity representative James Linton, who had unsuccessfully sought to lease the office building at the downtown skate park property for $1 a year from the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, said the group plans to manage its Guide Right youth program at the facility.

He said the fraternity will make an estimated $11,000 in improvements on the property, which has not been used since 1989, and it will carry insurance that will release the city from any potential liability. Several commissioners expressed concern that the fraternity might get stuck with unforeseen issues.

"We've done a walk-through and the structure is sound," Linton said. "We know what we've got to do to get that place ready. We're going into this with our eyes wide open. We know what we'd be getting."

The commission also voted to approve an amendment to the city's travel policy that would allow for a minimum $46 per diem allowance for approved travel rather than the current $30. The new proposal is more in line with federal guidelines.