A proposed tax increase, budget concerns, and the police department were all major topics at the most recent meeting of the Fairland Board of Trustees.
FAIRLAND – A one and one-half-cent sales tax increase proposal was a major topic addressed at the Fairland Board of Trustees’ last meeting.
Trustee Lisa Jewett said she was not in favor of the sales tax after meeting with and looking at better options with the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML) of OKC.
“We can't do this to the public,” she said.
Trustee Kelda Lorax agreed saying raising the current sales tax from 3.85 would put the city's sales tax well above other county towns.
Crafton Pump owner Duane Bryant, subcontracted for Fairland’s public works said raising the sales tax would cause consumers to shop elsewhere, contrary to the push to buy locally to support Fairland.
No action was taken on the tax proposal. Jewett said after visiting with OML again, she will then bring other options back to the board.
Earlier in the same meeting, the 2017/2018 budget was tabled until the city's contracted CPA, Bill Turner, was available to be at a meeting to answer questions.
Lorax asked if the board could prepare the budget in-house in work sessions to save the cost of hiring an accountant. Trustee Tommy Hutchison asked if the budget could be reviewed on a monthly basis for better control and oversight.
“I don't know why we're waiting for Bill Turner, I spoke with him at length today,” Jewett said. “This is how it's always been done. I'm not saying it's right, but at this point, we didn't create this, but here we are. We have to take money from public works to deal with budget cuts. I don't want to do that, but there's no option.”
Jewett expressed her displeasure with such a budget measure but said once more revenue becomes available public works funds could be repaid.
Bryant said funds need to be put into public works for much-needed repairs including a $10,000 main gasline repair.
“I've let it go and let it go, and there's got to be repairs that public work has to have money to do,” he said.
The city's budget was $49,000 in the red last year, $34,000 the year before and $30,000 the year previous to that and a $130,000 Public Works CD has already been cashed in to cover budget shortfalls, according to Bryant.
Bryant asked for justification of the CPA's FY 2017/2018 budget of $155,000 when last year's budget was $80,000, expressing losing that amount of money without new revenues was concerning if CDs continue to be used to cover shortfalls and new CDs are not procured.
The city staff said the CD was used to pay for specific projects such as a new police car and a public works project, a $96,000 water tower, and explained the revenue fluctuation effects each year's budget. Bryant pointed out the deficit has only gotten worse.
“I don't have a suggestion other than pulling the budget down to where we're not losing money and then every department has to deal with it,” Bryant said. “You can't spend more than you have coming in.”
Jewett said all expenses needed to be reviewed. Lorax suggested looking at each department’s budget expenses for any possible savings and volunteered to make a list of items to consider.
“This board is more than trying to make corrections to rectify the situation,” Mayor Charles Mathis said.
After the discussion, Jewett made a motion to table the vote until Turner could be present and more information could be available on the specifics of the budget.
Fairland Police Department
An agenda topic involving the Fairland Police Department drew impassioned comment.
Vice President of Fairland Crime Stoppers, Tonya Roach, and co-owner of Automotive of Fairland spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting in support of the proposed retirement benefits for Fairland Police officers.
“We feel like this retirement plan would be very good so we could have full-time police officers in our city,” she said. “We support the Fairland police 100 percent.”
Mathis said the plan had been discussed at previous meetings, and the board decided a retirement plan for police wasn't financially possible at this time, but he said when the town was at a point of financial capability the trustees would reconsider the proposal.
“The Mayor and I have spoken, and I regretfully have to agree with him, and the officers agree with him,” Fairland Police Chief Aaron Richardson said. “We just hope, and the mayor has promised me, when the city gets in a better financial state I guarantee I'm going to come back with it. Ms. Roach, I appreciate the support on it. I just don't think the city can afford it right now.”
“In due respect Aaron, we're sorry we just don't have the finances right now because you and your people and the type of work they do - they deserve this type retirement plan, and we hope sometime in the near future we'll be able to do something,” Mathis said.
A July 16 Facebook post on Trustee Lorax’s page was addressed by Jewett who told Lorax she was angry about a post she made with misinformation and criticizing the police department. Lorax said the issues and concerns were raised to her by several constituents and she tried to talk to Richardson about the issues and did not get a response.
“I just don't think that's fair,” Jewett said. “I think you should go to that department head and voice concerns that way.”
In his department report later Richardson presented information on the department's only revenues which come from the city’s budget and on ways his department can decrease costs without decreasing protection. Overtime wages, fewer officers on patrol during certain shifts, fuel conservation and suspending certain expenses are just a few of the ways the department is cutting costs, and grant funding and free services pursued and procured to offset expenses, according to the police chief.
“I have to say though that it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of our officers when we learned the town pays a company more in a year to mow the parks and cemeteries than they do a full-time officer,” Richardson said.
He asked for professional respect and treatment for the town's police officers, including in social media postings.
Richardson addressed the claim made on Facebook that backup assistance from neighboring agencies is provided at no cost to the town, clarifying Fairland's officers remain the primary agency in such cases.
An audit of logged call records indicated Fairland PD was called out 945 times in just eight months, with an average response time of two minutes, according to Richardson.
Richardson said response time will go up if the sheriff's office provides law enforcement to Fairland due to the large territory covered and said they will not enforce municipal ordinance, only state and county ordinances by jurisdictional law, costing 40 hours over $60,000 per town. Code and municipal fines collected would decrease if the sheriff's office provided the service, he said.
He reported new businesses are hesitant to locate in towns where local law enforcement is not present.
“On behalf of all the officers that work for you, the town of Fairland, I pledge that we will continue to provide you with the best protection and services we can,” Richardson said. “I just ask that you look long and hard at all of the programs you fund and find places that can be trimmed.”
Lorax asked the police chief what part of her post was not factual, and stating she has information to prove it is factual and those who expressed concerns to her might have reason not to come forward publicly.
“You made some very strong claims, and I provided information to the mayor to show those were not true,” Richardson said. “...I'm not calling you a liar I'm saying what you said was reckless and put the city at risk.”
Richardson said he was not dodging Lorax’s questions previously, but following the mayor's directive to deal directly with him and not speak with Lorax about the issue.
Jewett reported on a proposed contract with the Peoria Housing Authority and the Town of Fairland for the relocation of Fairland's City Hall.
“Because of the way it's written we can’t use it for legal purposes,” she said.
Jewett said she is composing a new contract to have approved by the town's attorney for board approval at a later time.
No action was taken on a proposal to use Grand Savings Bank in Fairland as a second payment location at no charge for Fairland Public Works Utility bills for Fairland residents.
Trustees and staff expressed concern over issues of the proposal that might cause problems with billing.
In the Fairland Public Works Authority meeting, sealed bids were opened for the inspection of the town's sewer main and was approved contingent on Bryant’s inspection of a bid from Red Zone Robotics for 90 cents for linear foot for 8 to 12-inch pipes for the project budgeted at $25,000 to $50,000 total.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.