City of Stonecrest adopts 2021 budget—after battle

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The city of Stonecrest adopted its 2021 operating budget on Monday night (Nov. 2) after a contentious exchange between Councilmembers George Turner and Jazzmin Cobble and Mayor Jason Lary.

The vote was 2-1 with the mayor and Councilmember Jimmy Clanton, saying yes, while Councilmember Rob Turner voted no. Council members George Turner, Tammy Grimes, and Jazzmin Cobble did not vote, saying they were not ready after raising several questions about the budget.

City Attorney Winston Denmark, who did not attend the special called meeting due to another meeting previously scheduled, explained today (Nov. 3) that the budget was adopted by default. Denmark cited Section 5.04 of the city charter: “If the city council fails to adopt the budget by the prescribed deadline, the operating budget and capital budget proposed by the mayor and city manager shall be adopted without further action by the city council.”

“Strictly speaking, if the budget is not adopted by the first day of the 11th month, then the proposed budget submitted becomes the budget for 2021, according to the charter,” Denmark said. “It doesn’t mean that it can’t be amended at another time, however. It is a fluid document that can be amended.”

Denmark said that since Nov. 1 fell on a Sunday, the council agreed to move the meeting to Monday, Nov. 2.

Councilmember George Turner and the mayor butted heads after Turner said he wanted to offer a substitute motion to extend the date to approve the budget.

“We need legal advice to say whether we can extend it or not,” said Turner.

Cobble also called for a substitute motion.

Lary called for the vote, saying that he had the right to move forward with a vote for the motion that was on the table.

The funding for personnel dominated the council’s discussion. One of the sticking points centered on the council wanting the budget to include five full-time assistants—one for each council member at an annual cost of $440,000 total ($55,000 base salaries plus benefits for each assistant).

The mayor said he proposed spending $82,000 for one chief of staff to provide administrative support to all five council members, rather than taking $300,000 set aside for parks and recreation.  Councilmember Cobble said the $300,000 could be used along with $100,000 from another category to fund the five positions.

“I just don’t see the work volume out of council in justifying nearly half a million so that each of them can have an assistant,” Lary said. “I received a lot of feedback from constituents saying they don’t see the need either. I compromised with everything else they wanted.”

The council also wanted to eliminate a 5 percent increase proposed for the Jacobs’ services contract. Jacobs is the contractor that oversees the city’s personnel and capital resources including office equipment, vehicles and other services.

The mayor said he felt it was important to budget for cost-of-living raises for workers and other resources. Councilmember George Turner said, however, that he did not want to approve a 5 percent increase for Jacobs without seeing the actual contract.

The mayor’s proposed salary for $75,000 also came up at the meeting. Lary currently earns $20,000 annually in a city that has more than 55,000 residents and is the largest municipality in DeKalb County. Lary said the $75,000 proposed for the mayor position equals the average annual household income of Stonecrest residents.

“I am recommending restoring the full-time compensation of the office of mayor, which was taken away by the General Assembly for political reasons when we were working to incorporate the city back in 2016,” said Lary. “It would have to go back to the General Assembly for a vote and I wanted to put it back into the proposed budget for their re-consideration.”

The Nov. 2 meeting can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JksyQU8Vjak  

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