Como Budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 25, 2009

Como residents split over pay for mayor and board

By Jason C. Mattox

After a public hearing Wednesday, Como aldermen moved one step closer to adopting a budget for the 2010 fiscal year, but not before a long discussion about salaries for city leaders.

Mayor Judy Sumner opened the meeting and asked for comments from the audience about the city’s proposed $1.1 million budget.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Minutes passed with no comments.

“How long am I supposed to wait?” Sumner asked. “I don’t think I have to wait 30 minutes if nobody has anything to say.”

The silence from the audience was broken when the mayor’s husband, Mike Sumner, raised his hand.

“I don’t think the board knew they were not going to be compensated for their work,” he said.

Sumner then asked aldermen Dr. Forster Ruhl, Clark Gregory and Bill Mitchell if they had seen improvement in the town under the present administration. All three gave a resounding yes.

“This town was in you-know-what kind of shape with lawsuits pending and Judy came in here and has worked with all the ones the town owed, and they are willing to let the town charge with them again,” Mike Sumner said. “That is a reflection on the town, and we are going forward. You can give the mayor a salary.”

That comment brought out supporters of the salary as well as opposition.

“Everyone ran for office and knew it was a non-paying job,” Mimi Herring said. “We have to save the town first, but I don’t think there is anyone that doesn’t want to see you eventually get paid.”

“This town is $600,000 in debt,” Dee Ruhl explained. “Let’s wait six months and see what revenue is coming into the town. You are all doing a good job and we appreciate you.

“I’m worried about the I.R.S.,” she continued. “I know they are after the ones who put us here, but has anyone asked to see if they would come after you if you start drawing a check while the town still owes them money?”

Assistant Chief of Police Earl Burdette explained that he had found additional cuts within the department and city-wide that would make it possible to pay the mayor and board.

“You asked us to find the money to pay the mayor and board, and we found a savings,” he said. “If some people on the board don’t want the money, they don’t have to take it.”

Zoning Administrator Alan Brooks said the city was in a better cash flow situation, but said he didn’t want to see the city go back into debt to allow the salaries.

“You found some money, but you need to find more so we can pay off the debt,” he said.

Resident James May said the city would always find itself in debt.

“Where would we be without Judy?” he asked. “Como will always owe money, just like any business and most everybody in this room.”

Another resident, Sadie Williams, said the mayor had people on the board who were backstabbing her, after previously agreeing she should be paid.

“Everybody sat up there at a meeting and said you should get $1,000 a year, and now you can’t,” she said. “You need to find out who backstabbed you. You have a hater.”

Como business owner Rick King asked if salaries could be addressed in the near future once the city begins to see what revenues will be.

“We had said we would look at this in November,” Gregory said.

“We haven’t crossed the bridge to where we are breaking even,” Alderman Mitchell said. “We will need a little time to see how it goes.”

Once the public hearing was closed, Sumner took her opportunity to speak.

“We started working on this budget, and not everyone could be here,” she said. “I didn’t think that two aldermen should finalize a budget, so I wanted to get everyone together.

“After the entire board looked at it, they asked for a second budget,” Sumner continued. “The majority of the board decided to keep the first budget after looking at both.”

Aldermen Ruhl, Gregory and Mitchell voted for the budget with no salaries. Aldermen Ruby Higgenbottom and Everette Hill voted against it.

“The majority of this board voted, and I accept that,” Sumner said. “We said we would revisit the salaries in November.

“I honored that vote because I thought it was in the best interest of the town,” she added. “I am proud of how far Como has come, but we still have a long way to go.”

Prior to adjournment, Rick King spoke up again, and his statements were met with applause.

“If I might be so blunt,” he said. “As a resident of Como for 19 years, I am damn glad you are mayor.”