By Frank Lewis
August 28, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
After Portsmouth City Council had completed its legislative session and the public comment period ended, Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams presented a piece of “emergency” legislation to be considered at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
“This is an ordinance to make fund transfers and appropriations necessary to satisfy the requirements of the State Auditor’s findings as a result of over-allocated central service costs in our 2012 budget,” Williams said. “It was the same finding as last year - the budget that was presented last year was nearly identical in charge-offs with the exception of about $100,000 that was removed, I believe, from the fire department. We, since then, have requested another cost allocation to come. That hasn’t come yet. That will be used for next year, but this one has already been finished, and the findings are that you have on the proposed ordinance, and it is a decrease from the General Fund of about $100,000.”
Williams said the reason for bringing it to the attention of Council at that time was that on Aug. 14, two days after the last Council meeting, it was brought to his attention that those transfers require council approval before the audits were finalized and sent to Athens and Columbus for review.
“The ordinance also needs to be approved by Sept. 4, which is also before the next meeting, and also that in order to reach our federal filing deadline of Sept. 30, it could not wait until our next Council meeting to approve on Sept. 9,” Williams said. “She (?) asked that this be sent to you for approval tonight. I did explain to her that you don’t like to do this kind of thing… And it has been requested that it be added and passed.”
First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson said all the members of Council had received the notice at 4:30 p.m., 1 1/2 hours before the meeting.
“Each member of Council had an opportunity to introduce it as a part of the agenda prior to the very first item being discussed,” Johnson said. “That is required in order that the public be advised that we are adding something more to the agenda. Adding it at this time, since we have already gone through the public comments regarding items on the agenda and items not on the agenda, the public is thus not given an opportunity to even respond to this. Second, our Rules of Council are very clear on how we can introduce legislation. Third, I can’t imagine the State Auditor’s office sending the same thing to the state legislature, demanding that they turn right around and violate their own rules of operation in order to satisfy a demand by the State Auditor. I have no intention of doing that either. We have a process. We will meet that Sept. 30 federal even if we approve this, which we should, at our next meeting. I would not vote to waive those rules.”
This was the latest of a string of items brought to council at seemingly the last minute.
“This is, what, the third or fourth time this month that something has been brought to us at the last minute, and said, we need this approval because it has to be submitted tomorrow or it has to be submitted the next day,” Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows said. “That is just too much. I agree with Councilman Johnson’s sentiments, the public is being left out. That defeats the whole purpose for having the rules in place. It’s disconcerting that we’re, for whatever reason, getting so much emergency legislation now.”
The actual action that has to be taken to fall into compliance with the Auditor of State’s order calls for a decrease of $274,609 in the General Fund balance; a decrease of $73,319 in the Sewer Fund balance; an increase of $73,779 in the Flood Defense balance; a increase of $167,474 in the Street Maintenance Fund; a increase of $87,601 in the Water Fund and an increase of $19,074 in the Sanitation Fund.
“Twenty-one days ago we passed a five-year budget that is now obsolete,” President of Council Steve Sturgill said. “It didn’t take a month to make it obsolete.”
In the end, Kevin W. Johnson moved that the rule requiring three readings be suspended, which passed unanimously. Johnson then moved that the ordinance be passed, and again, it was passed unanimously.
“Thank you gentlemen,” Williams said.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.