The Baldwin City Council will meet Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to again discuss the town’s 2012 budget, although officials had been pressured by town finance director Karen Degges to keep the budget process secret.
Under the current draft budget, the city is looking to increase spending by 8.3 percent, a move that would likely force a tax hike. Among the increased spending is more money for administrative positions, including a city administrator at $60,000 per year, a part-time administrative assistant and taking a part-time finance analyst to full-time.
But Baldwin’s budget process so far has been confused by Degges efforts to keep both the public and media at bay. The council held a highly unusual called meeting at 7 a.m. last Saturday morning to discuss the budget. The timing was apparently a move to keep the discussions secret.
A Banks County News reporter showed up and was met with a hostile reception by Degges. The finance director refused to give the reporter copies of the proposed budget, saying it was secret, a clear violation of state law. The reporter eventually got a copy of an overview sheet, but Degges waited until after the meeting to hand out details to council members to avoid giving the media a copy.
Monday, Degges sent an email to the council complaining about the media showing up Saturday.
"Saturday's meeting was more challenging than I had hoped it would be, with the unexpected attendance by the media (after they said they would not be there at last Thursday's work session,)” Degges wrote.
Degges also pushed the council to cancel Thursday’s meeting to allow her to meet in small groups with council members in an effort to avoid having to have a public budget meeting.
"It's going to be very difficult to have another public meeting…. and go into the level of detail that will be needed to examine potential budget cuts and or tax increases....,” Degges wrote in her Monday email. “It will be inflammatory enough in the paper to have her print (as I am expecting) that staff has asked for an additional $150,000 in funding, which will require a 2.5 tax mil increase."
The Baldwin City Council started 2012 budget talks with a 7 a.m. meeting on Saturday at city hall. Shown (clockwise) are: council members Beverly Holcomb and Sandi Rudeseal, Finance and Human Resources Director Karen Degges, Mayor Jerry Neace, council members Jeff Parrish and Rodney King, and city clerk Mirinda Dispain.
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