Selling of vacation time and a proposed increase to the sanitation fee were the major topics of a Helena-West Helena City Council financial workshop Tuesday evening.
“Selling vacation time only to work that particular week that was requested off and still receive pay is outrageous,” commented Mayor Arnell Willis.
Willis stated that that he never heard of such a practice and asked why the city continues to accept this “budget buster.”
“This was enacted upon by the previous administration through an ordinance that allows a city employee to sell one weeks vacation. Approval is at the discretion of the mayor,” commented City Clerk Sandi Ramsey. “The problem is the employees are working that vacation week and getting paid twice for one week.”
According to Ramsey, the city has failed to go back and adjust the year- end salaries.
“It's no longer included in the budget but you never know how many employees are going to sell their vacations,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey went on to say that this may be looked upon as a raise by other employees and recommended that action should be taken to amend the ordinance at the end of the year so that a proper reflection of the employees' salary increases could be counted and then reduced accordingly.
Councilman Jay Hollowell asked if there was anyway to tally who sold vacation time last year, stating that the council cannot make a decision without knowing where this affects the city financially.
Hollowell presented information pertaining to the Arkansas Public Employment Retirement possibility in which he says he didn't get a lot of positive feedback on.
“Basically we need a new law to exit APER,” commented Hollowell. Hollowell stated he has someone checking out the city's scenario and even suggested the city remain in limbo until something could be figured out.
According to Hollowell this would save the city a quarter of a million dollars on an annual basis and allow them to pay back their debt to other vendors.
In other news, the council discussed a proposed increase to sanitation fees and reviewed the figures outlined by Hollowell if passed.
“What I did was I considered an increase of $5, $7.50 and $10,” said Hollowell. “I then calculated that the total amount of revenue collected from each amount of increase and discovered that with a $5 increase the city would generate $268,080 for a $5 increase, $392,190 for a 7.50 increase and $526, 160 in revenue from a $10 increase,” explained Hollowell.
Councilman Larry Brown asked how the revenue would be tracked and whether or not the funds collected would go into a separate account.
Hollowell stressed the funds collected would go to old debt.
“We have robbed Peter to pay Paul too many times and we're in that situation where we are putting ourselves in jeopardy if we cannot enforce financial discipline now,” commented Hollowell.
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Joe St. Columbia questioned just how much debt does the city currently have to which the Ramsey replied, “We currently have $210,000 to be paid back to other accounts including the street and municipal court funds as well as $80,000 still owed to the landfill.”
According to the numbers the city still has $830,000 in debt.
Council member Vivian Holden asked if the sanitation late fee would be waved if the proposed increase was approved. Council member Christopher Franklin questioned whether or not a percentage of the funds collected could go to something that reflected some impact to the citizens of Helena- West Helena such as street repairs, cleaning ditches and other issues in the respective wards.
“You're going to have to give to get,” said Franklin. “The citizens may be more receptive to paying the increase if they see some relief to some of their repair issues.”
Council member Larry Brown recommended the department heads hold their departments accountable for their day-to-day operations and their employees.
“All it's going to take is one payroll period that cannot get paid for the city employees to realize how serious this situation is,” concluded Brown.
The council took no action during this session.