The Pine Bluff City Council adopted a roughly $30-million operating budget for 2014 on Monday night, despite some pointed opposition from Alderman Glen Brown.
An emergency clause that immediately enacted the ordinance was approved in like fashion with Brown casting the lone nay.
Brown stated his displeasure that an information technology post earmarked as a part-time internship for a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff student had been discontinued in favor of a new, higher-paying full-time position created to provide support to the police department. Brown grilled IT Director Wes O’Donohue on the matter for several minutes, accusing O’Donohue of “making up a position” to eliminate the internship.
Alderman George Stepps intervened, telling Brown that it was “unfair” for O’Donohue to be “put on the spot.”
“We need to discuss this up here,” Stepps said, referring to the seating area for council members and the mayor.
Brown made a motion for the UAPB-stipulated job and its approximately $12,000 funding to be maintained and added to the budget, in addition to the full-time post. Mayor Debe Hollingsworth asked if money was available for the extra job.
As city Finance Director Steve Miller attempted to respond to the mayor, Brown interrupted him. Hollingsworth reminded Brown that the proposed budget had been approved and recommended for the full council’s endorsement by the panel’s ways and means committee.
“It’s been discussed at length,” Hollingsworth said, noting a number of departmental and committee meetings that were held as part of the budget process.
“Not really,” Brown replied.
Brown’s only ally in the amendment effort wound up being Alderwoman Thelma Walker.
When Hollingsworth noted the motion’s 6-2 defeat, Brown said, “I will never vote against UAPB. I want you to know that.”
In a previous discussion, Walker protested budget cuts in the fire department. Fire Chief Shauwn Howell said he needed more funding to have a necessary number of firefighters to better ensure their own as well as the public’s safety and for the city to maintain an improved rating that cut insurance expenses.
Appropriations for two firefighters were trimmed from the 2014 budget.
Brown said the police department, which maintained its job funding level, was being favored in the budget. Stepps explained that the fire department cuts resulted from a loss of grant money, and the police department would be looking at similar reductions next year with the ending of some of its job grants.
Alderman Wayne Easterly took exception to some of Howell’s remarks, saying the chief was seemingly indicating that the council “wanted” to trim the fire department’s expenditures.
“You come across like you’re trying to put the blame on the council,” Easterly said.
Howell apologized, saying he had not intended to give that impression.
Council members generally agreed that should more funding become available, additional appropriations could be made to help increase the number of firefighters.