Eutaw City Council debates budget and finances, selection of police chief and grant applications

Eutaw Council L-R Councilwoman Sheila Smith, Councilman Joe L. Powell, Councilwoman Hattie Edwards, Mayor Raymond Steele, City Clerk Peggy Stripling, Councilman Ralph Liverman and Councilman David Spencer. Pictured in audience is Mr. Levi Morrow.

By: John Zippert,

In its first three meetings for 2011, on January 11 and 25 and February 8, the Eutaw City Council has debated budget and finances, the procedure for selecting a new police chief and matters related to Federal and state infrastructure grant applications.
The debate on substantive issues goes on in a continuing climate of distrust and animosity between Mayor Raymond Steele and members of the City Council concerning management and control of the City’s finances, policies and direction.
In the January 11th meeting, the Council heard a report from West Alabama Regional Commission (WARC) concerning rejection of a CDBG grant request that was submitted to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) for a water tank, as well as repairs and maintenance of the city’s water system.
Eutaw’s grant application lost competitive points because the City’s water rates were not high enough to meet ADECA standards, engineering fees were too high, no local match was provided, the life expectancy of the project was only 15 years compared to 50 years which was preferred by ADECA and other factors.
The Council voted to have WARC resubmit the application with adjustments for the areas where points were lost for the next round of competition which closes at the end of February.
At that same meeting, Councilman Ralph Liverman presented a draft budget for the current fiscal year which began on October 1, 2010 and ends September 30, 2011. Liverman said, “As best as I can tell this is the first time in history that the Eutaw City Council has actually prepared and reviewed a budget document.”
The Council adopted the budget for 2010-2011 as presented. The General Fund Budget adopted included projected revenues of $1,673,950 and projected expenditures of $1,618,663, leaving a projected surplus of $55,287. The projected expenditures include $458,869 for Administration, $578,175 for the Police Department, $215,048 for the Street Department, $22,000 for the Fire Department, $29,237 for Janitorial Expenses, $99,334 for the Sewer Department, and $216,000 for the Sanitation Department.
The budget adopted for the Water Fund included projected revenues of $879,000 and projected expenditures of $877,857, leaving a projected surplus of $l,143.
Projected expenditures include $34,700 for administration, $463,157 for operations, and $380,000 for non-departmental expenses.
Liverman said, “The adoption of the budget is an important step in getting better control of city finances. However we need to improve on this process so that the council members and the public can get a better understanding of the city’s finances. The figures in the budget were based on revenues and expenditures from previous years. I feel fairly confident about the projected revenues but less so as to projected expenditures. We need to get a better budgetary accounting system that will give us up-to-date amounts each month and allow us to plan for unforeseen events, such as equipment breakdowns, water line leaks and other emergencies.”
After voting on the budget, the Council voted to give $30,000 to 9-1-1 Emergency Management for necessary operations.
Councilman Powell spoke to the need for repair of the streets in Branch Heights and Councilwomen Sheila H. Smith mentioned problems of pot holes in the library parking lot which hampers people from using the services at the library. Mayor Steele said, “the City does not have the funds to repair and maintain all of the roads and streets in the City or to fix all of the problems with utilities and community facilities like the library. This is why we are seeking state and Federal grant funds for these things.” Powell said he was setting up a meeting on February 28 in Branch Heights to discuss repair of the streets in his Council district.
In the June 25th meeting the Council received its audit report for the past fiscal year ending September 30, 2010 from James Gardner, CPA of Demopolis. Gardner reviewed the audit and said the City of Eutaw had received an unqualified opinion indicating that the financial statements accurately reflected the financial condition of the City. Gardner did recommend that the City update its computer softwear since the technology in use was “several generations behind what was currently available and being used by other similar municipalities.” Gardner said it would cost $5,000 to $10,000 to upgrade the softwear systems. Councilmember Liverman asked the auditor to recommend some specifications and options for the softwear upgrade, so the Council could act on them in a future meeting.
The Council also voted not to fund a $30,000 contract with Almon and Associates, an engineering company, recommended by Mayor Steele, because funds were limited and they did not want to design additional projects until some of those already proposed had been completed. Mayor Steele said the Council was being shortsighted in not planning ahead and doing the engineering and environmental assessments necessary to project new water, sewer and community facility projects.

Appointment of Police Chief

Councilman David Spencer raised the issue of the procedure for selection of a new Police Chief to fill the position held by the late Tommy Summerville, who died in late December. The Mayor said he was soliciting applications until January 31st and then he would review and interview the applicants and make a recommendation to the City Council for their approval.
Spencer, who is chair of the Council Police Committee, asked if he could review the applications and make input to the process. At first, the Mayor would not agree to any participation by Spencer or members of the Police Committee (Liverman and Powell) due to confidentiality of information on the resumes and other concerns. After much discussion and consultation with Mike Smith, City Attorney, Council-women Smith proposed a motion that the Police Committee would be able to review the applications for Police Chief in the Mayor’s office after signing a confidentiality agreement. This motion was approved by a majority of the Council.
Elliot Waters, a Fish and Game officer, who has had the required police training, was approved to serve as a part time officer. In the February 8th meeting in response to questions from the Council, Mayor Steele said that he had received numerous applications for police chief and shared them with Councilman Spencer to review. Steele said he had not had time to review the applications in depth and decide which applicants to interview to make his recommendations to the Council. In response to Councilman Spencer request for Police Committee involvement and input in the selection process, Steele said he would operate in accordance with the City ordinance and make his recommendations to the Council at the appropriate time. He seemed unwilling to accept any advice or input from the Council Police Committee in the selection process.
The Mayor also indicated that he had made efforts but had not yet set up a meeting with ADECA, USDA Rural Development, Delta Regional Authority (DRA) or Senator Richard Shelby’s office on plans to proceed with a $297,000 sewer improvement grant, first approved for the City in 2004 through the DRA. Several Council members have been concerned that the city will lose these funds unless action is taken to begin this project.
The Mayor has been working on setting up a meeting with the concerned parties since mid-October 2010 – so far without results. Some Council members feel the City will not be approved for any new water or sewer projects until this sewage improvement grant, approved by DRA almost seven years ago is started.


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