ALBANY — The Albany City Commission approved a $289 million Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Tuesday, but some members criticized an amendment to a sewage study they said should have been brought to their attention earlier in the budgeting process.
Commissioners unanimously approved the spending plan for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The bulk of the budget — $161 million — comes from Albany Utilities, which provides electricity, water, natural gas, sewage, solid waste and telecommunications services.
The city’s general fund budget of $63.76 million includes a number of budget items identified as priorities by commissioners, including recreation improvements, a raise for most police officers and demolishing dilapidated housing.
The 6 percent pay increase includes officers from the rank of major and below.
Money earmarked for demolition was increased from $400,000 in the current budget to $1 million for the budget year beginning on July 1. The city also will hire three additional Code Enforcement officers and make it a standalone department, which will incur no cost to the city.
Commissioners also have earmarked $1.3 million to renovate the Bill Miller and Henderson gyms, and an additional $750,000 will go toward Carver Park.
The $1.22 million amendment to the sewage budget was the issue that drew the ire of Commissioner Chad Warbington and Mayor Bo Dorough.
Warbington cast the sole vote against the amendment.
The commission contracted in February 2019 with Constantine Engineering to provide a study of the city’s combined sewer overflow, localized flooding areas and wastewater treatment plant.
The contract included a $551,217 purchase order from May 2019, of which $394,509 was paid last year. The remainder and a July 2019 purchase order of $1.06 million remained unpaid.
“It’s going to be a challenge for me to vote for this,” Warbington said. “Really, the compelling argument is this is the ninth hour and we are six days away from adopting our budget. I don’t see how the City Commission was not engaged in a $1.6 million purchase.
“For staff to issue $1.6 million in purchase orders is not acceptable. I don’t know what the fix for this (is). I expect this not to happen again.”
Dorough, who along with Warbington was not a member of the commission last year, said the contract should provide a “learning moment” and a wake-up call for commissioners to be more attentive.
“There was no limit on what this firm could be paid,” he said. “Here we are giving somebody a contract and we don’t have any control over what they charge. I hope this commission will be more responsible in the future to make sure the city’s funds are better protected and this does not happen in the future.”
Commissioners approved a second budget amendment totaling $1.3 million for a contract with Area Wide Protective for the repair of signs damaged by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
Because the expenditures occurred prior to the end of Fiscal Year 2020, the budget amendment was necessary, city Finance Director Derrick Brown said. At least 75 percent of the costs associated with the repairs should be eligible for reimbursement to the city, he said.
In other business, the commission:
— Approved a joint resolution with the Dougherty County Commission requiring the wearing of face masks in city- and county-owned buildings due to the continued presence of Covid-19. Both the city and county re-opened government buildings on Monday;
— Approved a one-year management agreement with the Chehaw Park Authority. The city is providing funding of $882,000 for Chehaw in the 2020-2021 budget, and the authority is developing a strategic plan for the future of the facility;
— Accepted easements from Dougherty County to allow maintenance of recent Arbor Day plantings along the Monroe Street connector trail;
— Rescinded the last shelter-in-place order related to COVID-19 to be consistent with the latest order related to sheltering issued by Gov. Brian Kemp;
— Approved a $225,000 expenditure for a customer portal that will allow utility customers to access their data when the city’s digital metering system is installed.